Pipo Nguyen-duy remembers hearing gunshots every day as a child. Growing up in Vietnam during the war, he particularly remembers the Tet Offensive that claimed his uncle’s house and everybody in it only a day after he stayed there for a visit. Years later, at age thirteen, he immigrated to the United States as a political refugee.
While the photographic series East of Eden is not autobiographical, the work draws on his complex emotions regarding his childhood in Vietnam. These emotions did not surface in his photographs until 9/11 reawakened his memories of a state of existence tainted by uncertainty. As the artist describes, “With September 11th, the idea of universal fear and anxiety became very similar to my thoughts and my reactions while living in Vietnam during the war. That is, at any given time, something is going to go wrong.”
When he first began the East of Eden series in 2002, Pipo staged his scenarios in different anonymous places all over the United States. For the second part of the series, East of Eden: Vietnam, he returned to his native country to extend his project to a landscape that still bears the physical scars of war, and with the people that have lived and survived its horrors.
Cracking open the façade only hinted at in the American images, the Vietnam photographs mix dignity and acceptance with the physical reality of war. The new work reflects a different existence outside the garden of promise—one where emotional disturbance is manifested in very real scars and war wounds. Whereas the American images depict people still frozen by the ramifications of their loss of Eden, the photographs made in Vietnam portray people who have continued unhindered by their personal loss and physical damage, thereby spreading hope that there is in fact life and happiness even east of Eden.
Director, Light Work
Pipo Nguyen-duy has received many awards and grants including an En Foco New Works Photography Award; a Professional Development Grant from the College Arts Association; an American Photography Institute National Graduate Fellowship, New York, NY; a fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission in Salem, OR; a B. Wade and Jane B. White Fellowship in the Humanities at Oberlin College; and two Individual Artist Fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council in Columbus, OH. He participated in an artist residency at Monet’s Garden through The Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Artists at Giverny Fellowship and also at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, CA. He participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program in 2004.
Among other venues, his work has been exhibited at the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, OH; PH Gallery in New York, NY; Portland Institute of Contemporary Arts, Portland, OR; Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, OR; Wooster Art Museum in Wooster, OH; SPACES in Cleveland, OH; SF Camerawork in San Francisco, CA; The Bronx Museum in New York, NY; and the Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Art in Buffalo, NY. Pipo is an Associate Professor teaching photography at Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH and he lives with his family in Ashland, OR.