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Artist Uses Bomb Shells to Make Intriguing Art

By: Phoebe Huang

Bombshells are projectiles, which contain explosive, incendiary, or other chemical fillings. Used widely in the military, bombshells explode when the primer at the base of the shell ignites the propeller and releases a bursting charge at the tip of the nose. But what does the military do with the bombshell after it’s been released? Artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen has some ideas.

Andrew’s father, a former draftee of the Vietnam War, his mother, and he escaped Vietnam as “boat people.” Vietnamese boat people are those who fled Vietnam by sea. He spent his childhood in Oklahoma, Texas. He discovered art at UC Irvine, where he studied under Daniel Joseph Martinez, an American man who contributed to the 1993 Whitney Biennial which featured a collection of museum tags which carried the message “I Can’t Imagine Ever Wanting to Be White.”

In his childhood, Andrew was told multiple stories about Vietnam. He moved back to connect with his home country and his grandmother, a poet and editor. He felt in order to enjoy his time, he needed to experience the place firsthand.

“It’s important to me to find my way through the world in revelation to others,” Andrew had said. His first piece, “The Island,” featured art made from a collection of many seemingly useless items which formed an interesting headdress and many more ‘statues’, one of which was of a worshiped goddess, with a similar headdress, and another one of a seemingly abandoned ship. He gathered all his pieces into a 42-minute video, where he got his first experience.

Andrew always wanted to make a film on Quang Tri, a Vietnamese province. During the pandemic, he found his chance to do so. His film, “The Unburied Sounds of A Troubled Horizon,” starts by settling on a distinctive monument at the far end of a wooden bridge. The bridge stretches over the Ben Hai River, which marks the divide between North and South Vietnam. Andrew uses this captivating film as a centerpiece of “Tuan Andrew Nguyen: Radiant Remembrance,” which is set to open at the New Museum in Manhattan on June 29 -- less than a month after he was awarded the 2023 Joan Miro Prize in Barcelona.

One of these pieces includes a model of bombshells balancing a mobile. Even though this piece may seem, it’s a picturesque representation of life and war. Andrew originally wanted to become a doctor, to help people heal, but through art, he found another way to help others.

“My starting point is Vietnam. But my ambition is to extend it beyond just the narratives of Vietnam,” he said, “these global moments that have brought us to where we are now.”

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