Reclaiming Insults

Photo by OCW StaffGod bless post-structuralism, postmodernism, and all the post-isms of our radical academic age that not only allow but also require discriminated groups to take back ("appropriate," we say in the classroom) the insults that oppressors use to denigrate and to redefine said slurs—so that Mexican-American kids proudly call themselves "Chicanos," homosexuals "queer" and blacks, well, you get the picture.

Artists in particular have appropriated slurs with speed, an example of which you'll find in the multimedia art exhibit "F.O.B.," concluding Saturday. A collaboration of 40 young Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American artists from across the country, the exhibit seeks to deconstruct the ethnic smear "fob" (fresh off the boat) that is frequently used against Asians and give it a new context through their artwork.

"We need to show people that Vietnamese and especially Vietnamese-American artists are not only about rice paddies and buffaloes and bamboo trees," curator Tram Le writes in the preface to "F.O.B." "These artworks are important because our voices need to be heard, and we can't just sit by and allow others to brand us."

And "F.O.B." does that with a dizzying array of artistic mediums, experiences and personalities. There are two components to the exhibit: the static and the live. The former display everything from Q Bao Nguyen's Polaroids of Chicano and Asian bus riders titled "Family of Bus Riders" to VuDam Nguyen's "Nguyen Looking at his Heads," a bronze sculpture of a man who sees his head on his penis, as well as artwork decorated with poems asserting pride in cultural heritage. The Most Bizarre award goes to an entry that consists of many 20-foot-high rolls of hundreds of X-rays, no explanation given.

The live performances have drawn large crowds the past two Saturdays with their personal-yet-universal tales. This Saturday's will bring more of the same, as performance artist Jayvee Mai The Hiep will re-enact his "First Time" by disrobing in front of the audience. Others (Voltron Krew DJs, alt.-rock quintet Thomas' Apartment) will voice their own take on the fob phenomenon through music. And showing continuously every day are short films from every genre, interview, documentary and surreal.

"F.O.B." represents a turning point for the county's emerging Vietnamese youth community. As the second and (so-called) "1.5" generation children become conscious of the old country's twisted relationship with the U.S., they will continue to produce thought-provoking art that re-examines their own experience. The rest of us get something, too, of course: the anarchistic totality of the exhibit forces us to call into question our conservative assumptions about the largely ignored-by-others Vietnamese community that exists in our county. Each piece in "F.O.B." drives home the point that—geographically or politically or psychologically—we're all just getting off the boat.

"F.O.B." at the Nguoi Viêt Gallery, 14771 Moran st., Westminster, (714) 531-7605. Special performances Sat., 2-10 p.m. Open daily, 2-6 p.m. Through Sat. Free. All ages.


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