BELLS FROM BOMBS
By: Annie Yu
“Unburied Sounds” is the masterpiece of Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s new exhibit at the New Museum in Manhattan which opened on June 29. The exhibit showcases memories-- memories that have faded.
In Quang Tri province, there’s a distinctive monument titled ‘Desire for National Reunification’ at the far end of a rickety and reconstructed wooden footbridge spanning the vast Ben Hai River. This river was the demarcation line between North and South Vietnam, and a couple miles in each direction marked out the Demilitarized Zone, a “buffer zone” that became one of the most bomb-ridden places on Earth.
There were so many bombs that people would use the casings as practically anything. Some examples: bells at Buddhist temples, flowerpots, and planters. Bombshells were the only resource the region had left.
“Unburied Sounds”, the documentary that accompanies Nguyen’s exhibit, is the story of Nguyet, a fictional woman living in Quang Tri. She makes her living scavenging the metal from unexploded bombs. Her mother has been traumatized by the death of the family’s father.
Nguyet’s friend was playing with cluster bombs and was left with one eye and stumps for two legs and an arm. Two cousins died in that explosion. Nguyet’s job is risky, and she knows that. Nguyet makes mobiles out of bomb casings—mobiles that look like Calder’s. After reading an article about Calder, she is becoming convinced that she is his reincarnated.
“My starting point is Vietnam. But my ambition is to extend it beyond just the narratives of Vietnam,” Nguyen said, adding that he wants to help people heal.