The Purpose of Parahistory in Late Socialist Vietnam

The Purpose of Parahistory in Late Socialist Vietnam

Thao Nguyen Phan , The Execution, 2019, from ‘Dream of March and August’ 2018-ongoing , watercolor on silk, 60 x 80 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

UNSW Art, Design and Architecture Contemporary Asia-Pacific Visual Cultures Webinar Series

Speaker: Pamela Nguyen Corey, Fulbright University Vietnam
Date and Time: Thursday, 21 April, 5:00pm

On Zoom (register via the link:

Subsistence crises have recurred throughout Vietnamese modern history, notably in the contexts of French colonialism, Japanese occupation, and postcolonial and postwar communist economic centralization and agricultural collectivization. More recent, episodes of hunger have been creatively remembered through a range of official and unofficial forms, such as film, literature, and museum exhibitions, even if such episodes occupy a more uneasy place within the sphere of state culpability and thus national historiography. Nonetheless, there is clearly a rich body of artistic expression and remembrance of the crisis of hunger in Vietnamese history. Contemporary artists have continued to explore the topic of hunger and the memory of subsistence crisis in Vietnam, with two works standing out for their depiction of such events as transtemporal, transnational crystallisations of history. This presentation considers what may be perceived as the desire to locate the personal and the universal through the merging of such contexts. Why the need for such expanded means of representation when historical erasure or historiographical gap are not at issue? Is it an attempt to unsettle the national narrative and its teleological rehabilitations? I explore these questions through the concept of parahistory, which I argue should not be primarily understood as a strategy to bypass cultural censorship.
Pamela Nguyen Corey, PhD researches and teaches modern and contemporary art history, focusing on Southeast Asia within broader transnational Asian and global contexts. She received her BA (Studio Art) from the University of California, Irvine, and her Ph.D. (History of Art and Visual Studies) from Cornell University. Prior to joining Fulbright University Vietnam in January 2021, she was an assistant professor in the History of Art & Archaeology department at SOAS University of London.

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