Justin Quang Nguyên Phan

– is Assistant Professor in Global Asian Studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago

Justin Quang Nguyên Phan’s research and teaching interests are in the Global Asias, critical ethnic and race studies, feminist theories and epistemologies, queer diaspora, critiques of empire and militarism, and visual culture. His current book manuscript, Embodied Nonalignment: Vietnamese Diasporic Aesthetics and Cold War Mediations, aims to theorize how Vietnamese diasporic cultural production refract Cold War legacies through diasporic genealogies of nonalignment and how Vietnamese and Vietnamese artists disrupt Cold War, colonial, and postcolonial nationalist frameworks.

Dis/Embodiment: Nonaligned Aesthetics in Contemporary Vietnamese Art

In assessments of Vietnamese art, Cold War histories and structures are often used to understand Vietnam. As a result, Vietnam and Vietnamese diaspora are then understood as sites of postwar trauma that bear witness to the ruination and afterlife of war, whether we trace it in the psyche, the body, the family, nation, land, waterways, atmosphere, and planet, among other places. Thus, scholars and artists have used the language of inheritance and embodiment to signal how these wars live on despite the war’s nominal end and despite efforts by various nation states to evacuate such forms of recognition.

Yet, while the language of embodiment indexes how communities experience war’s afterlives, critical engagement with Vietnamese art requires our attention to the relative complications and conceits of using embodiment as an organizing principle for the recognition of Vietnamese art. Drawing on incisive critiques levied by contemporary Vietnamese artists, this talk analyzes how Vietnamese artists unsettle Cold War logics of recognition—premised on a dichotomous framework of embodiment/disembodiment—and instead create nonaligned aesthetics as a means of defamiliarizing our expectations of postwar Vietnamese art. As such, this talk argues that contemporary Vietnamese artists subvert Cold War dichotomies in their work and instead exert new ways of knowing and seeing Vietnamese art.