Le Thuy (Vietnam) was shortlisted for her work Garden of Eden. The now silenced instrument, with its veneer of loss and loneliness, stands in quiet testament to those people of no status, who have no voice.
Where did you come across the Dan Tranh instrument – and what drew you to it as a surface for art creation?
A few years ago I went to say goodbye to a friend who was leaving the city life for a quiet life. I found the ‘Dan tranh’ amongst her discarded things. It was once a beloved object, now broken with rusted strings and rotted pegs. I could not help but admire the workmanship of the master craftsman who made it. I have never heard its sound but I imagined the lovely tunes it would have made.
The fine decorations and detailing with mother of pearls, the bridge, the pegs speak of the talent of the master craftsman. Now lying broken and unloved amongst other broken and unloved things, it was a mournful sight. At the same time, I mourned for the wasted talent of a master craftsman, I mourned for the forgotten traditions no longer appreciated by my generation. I brought the broken ‘Dan tranh’ back to my studio and placed it where I had to see it every day, until I could find an inspiration worthy of its beauty.
How did you find the experience of working with such tragic subject matter?
I am haunted by the particular event where 39 Vietnamese nationals died in a refrigeration truck outside Sussex, while being smuggled into the UK. For many weeks, I was unable to open my own fridge without thinking about it. The blast of cold air each time I open the fridge would make me imagine the horrors of their last moments.
I come from the same place as they. A poor, harsh land without resources and the only work available is toiling the land. And these farmers can no longer toil their lands due to many reasons, from natural to man-made. They were robbed or from their own accord, abandoned their only means of livelihood. They seek to turn their fortune quickly at any cost, leaving their homes to find a way out. These young lives probably didn’t appreciate the darkness that awaited them. But for their families, their clans, they accept any danger to escape poverty. I feel only pity for them and sympathise with their choices. Their deaths are like the sounds of a music instrument suddenly silenced. They should have had a right to enjoy their lives, the beautiful music. But suddenly they are dead bodies no longer capable of music.