San José

San Jose´ Stories: The Vietnamese Diaspora

Curated by Rory Padeken, Commissioned by the San Jose Museum of Art

On March 21, 2019,  at sunset, fifteen migration stories are projected onto the front entrance architectural facade of the San José. Museum of Art. The moving portraits are framed by hundreds of animated Vietnamese emigrants on their journey. These representations of Vietnamese walkers are projected onto the columns directly above the front entrance to the museum. The animated character is fashioned after a journalistic photograph taken during the war depicting a mother escaping Vietnam carrying her children and belongings balanced precariously from a bamboo stick flung over her shoulder. Migrating birds are projected onto the columns, posts, and portals. Projected water crashes down the museum steps as visitors walk into the scene, enter the museum, and become part of the real-life diorama of mass migrations that define the twenty-first century.

Many of the stories are gifted by SJSU students and alum. They are multi-generational, including elders who took part in the war as early as the 1950s. SJMA has commissioned Bay Area artist Robin Lasser to create two site-specific outdoor video projection mapping events as part of the ongoing project Migratory Cultures. Lasser’s video installations feature interviews with individuals from San José’s Vietnamese-American community who together reveal a more nuanced narrative of the Vietnamese diaspora in the United States.

The artist hopes that this exhibition can be a partnership of Migratory Cultures and the Vietnamese-American community in San José, inspired in part by SJSU students and their families. The world today is experiencing the largest waves of human migration since World War II, and with this country’s continued, active shaping of world politics, and the refugee crisis on the southern border growing ever more complex, Lasser seeks out and engages with the narratives surrounding migration by highlighting the voices in our communities of those who have lived the experience.

The projection mapping of interviews with multiple generations of Vietnamese immigrants and the interactive Dream Boats event are designed to transform the Migratory Cultures project into a platform for the Vietnamese diaspora in San José to frame their own, individual migration tales. Each of us alone is limited to the details of our lived experience, but a project incorporating many voices can seek to do the work of narrating history, confronting trauma, and exploring memory. Ultimately, we hope that this project will serve our community and want to thank everyone that participated by gifting their story to this project.

A hard copy limited edition printed book of the San José Stories: The Vietnamese Diaspora project can be ordered here ~

Preview the book in PDF format here