The exhibition takes as its preamble a line from the poem A Soldier Speaks of His Generation (1973): “…our generation has never slept”. Expressing the profundity of war experience and its enduring effects on the human psyche, the phrase is an entry point from which the presentation can be read and accessed. With focus placed on the works of eight key artists who were assigned to the front as war artists by the government in Hanoi, the term ‘wartime art’ may elicit perspectives into specific experiences of conflict, but by viewing the artist as an independent actor, the exhibition prompts questions into the agency of the artworks and narratives associated to them. Included alongside these artworks are supporting texts and excerpts of poems and memoirs. Altogether, they further explore the significance of the individual experience, suggesting intersecting concerns, even as intentions and purposes diverge.
About the collection
This remarkable collection of 1,208 wartime artworks is one of the largest known private collection of its kind outside of Vietnam. Collected during Ambassador Dato’ N. Parameswaran’s tenure as Malaysia’s Ambassador to Vietnam from 1990 to 1993 and built chiefly around artists associated to North Vietnam, the collection comprises of 858 drawings in various media, 143 hand-painted posters, 74 printed posters, 74 woodcuts, 46 photographs and 13 paintings. This undertaking took place during the early years of Vietnam’s economic reform introduced in 1986, which coincided with a newer attention on Vietnamese art, its history and directions. Despite a burgeoning contemporary art market, Ambassador Dato’ N. Parameswaran focused on collecting artworks of the war years, which for him—through their depictions of landscapes, events, peoples, and legends—are both historically and culturally important, and they demonstrate the spirit of Vietnam being a nation tested by wars and legacies.
Wartime Artists of Vietnam will be the fourth in a series of shows drawing from this collection, which has been on long-term loan to the NUS Museum since 2015 to exhibit, research and facilitate teaching. Previous exhibitions focused on the Vietnamese perspective of history Vietnam 1954-1975 (2015-2016), the artistic training and technical mastery of the artists LINES (2016-2017), and post-war remembrance Who Wants To Remember A War? (2016-2018).