Remembering Childhood During the Vietnam War, by Pipo Nguyen-duy
While working as a Guggenheim fellow to document Vietnamese war amputees in 2012, Pipo
Nguyen-duy began working on his series “(My) East of Eden” in the Mekong Delta. This project is the artist’s attempt to reclaim his childhood memories of growing up in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Beyond serving as the means to tell his stories, Nguyen-duy intends for these images to address issues such as legacy, hope, and regeneration. Working with rural Vietnamese children in school uniforms, the artist created portraits and staged photographs reminiscent of 19th-century British landscape paintings where the environment and its inhabitants coexist in harmony.
Against the backdrop of landscapes that bear the physical scars of war, “(My) East of Eden” is a celebration of the resilience and beauty of humanity. Forty years after the war, the once
destroyed landscape with school children provides the perfect environment for photographs addressing regeneration, hope, history, and legacy. The uniformed kids placed in the idealized landscape without the presence of adults signify the beginning after the end. In one image a boy emerges from the lush landscape, while in another a boy and a girl lit by an ethereal light sit tranquilly by a duck pond that was once a bomb crater.
These seemingly comforting images are in contrast to a photograph of school children playing war games and another portrait of a boy submerged in water as a drowning victim. With this body of work Nguyen-duy endeavors to weave a complex and multilayered narrative about the delicate attempt to rebuild a decimated paradise.
Born in Hue, Pipo Nguyen-duy grew up within thirty kilometers of the demilitarized zone of the 18th Parallel, he describes hearing gunfire every day of his early life. He later immigrated to the United States as a political refugee.