Gửi anh Tuyền (63 Years)

Mixed Media: videos, photographs, sound installation, archival materials.

Mai Nguyen Anh’s intimate family history project spans the complex history of modern Vietnam, beginning before the second Indochina War of 1955–75 to the present day. The protagonists are Mai’s grandmother, Mrs. Huong Thi Kim Phung, 77, and her older brother Mr. Tuyen Pham, 81, who were parted at a young age in the early 1950s and lost contact for years after, due to geopolitical circumstances that spanned countries and continents. Living in Hanoi, Mrs. Huong received news of Tuyen’s survival when he wrote to her from the United States in 1976, where he and his family had escaped to following the Fall of Saigon the year before. In the decades following, they communicated through letters and telephone conversations. She learned about his early life in the south, where he had risen to become a high-ranking official in the South Vietnamese government, and his struggles in America as he and his family adapted to a new way of life as refugees and subsequently citizens. Fearing retaliation from the Communist party and preoccupied with the difficulties of getting by in the US, Tuyen was only able to make a brief visit to Hanoi in 2015. It was then that the two of them were able to reunite after 63 years of separation for the first, but also possibly the last time. 

63 Years (Gửi Anh Tuyền) tells the story of the tenuousness and strange persistence of familial ties in the face of geographical dislocations and social crises brought about by political upheaval. Tuyen is very much in the mind and heart of Mrs. Huong as the only surviving member of her immediate family, but distance and difference have rendered him a remote and ultimately inaccessible figure. His physical presence in her life, while longed-for, is complicated by the artefacts, images and words that make up the souvenirs of loss that have so marked the reconstruction of her relationship with her brother. This inexorable sense of time lost, and still quickly passing, are further suggested by the three moving image works, perhaps most directly by Mrs. Huong’s articulation of her memories and hopes in the 63 Years video, but also by the loop of the sea that at once evokes immense and perilous journeys, but also the undertows of unspeakable emotion.

Amidst the large scale of history, as constituted by regime change and the emergence of modern states, systems and societies, this project focuses on the real and emotional effects these have across generations of a single extended family. It reveals the endurance of belief and the consequences of war between north and south Vietnam that exist to this day.

The project was completed thanks to the support of Objectifs Documentary Award. The exhibition of the work was curated by Sam I-Shan from National Gallery Singapore and produced by Chelsea Chua from Objectifs.

The boat ride, 2018.
Single-channel color video, 6:36 minutes, loop.
Gửi anh Tuyền, 2019
Single-channel color video
, 7:32 minutes.