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5 Oct

Huis Marseille : Nhu Xuan Hua : Hug of

Huis Marseille presents the primary ever museum exhibition of the French-Vietnamese artist Nhu Xuan Hua (1989, Paris), a remarkable recent talent. Hua made her name as a photographer for magazines equivalent to Vogue, The Wall Street Journal, Dazed Beauty, DANSK and TIME Magazine and worked on commissions for giant fashion brands like Kenzo, Maison Margiela, Dior and Levi’s. Nevertheless, fashion photography is just considered one of her talents. The exhibition Hug of a swan highlights the range of her artistic work, which also takes the shape of installations and autonomous work inspired by family photos. The exhibition shows that these categories can’t be detached from each other; the inspiration for all of Hua’s creations arises out of non-public and shared memories.

Within the aftermath of the Vietnam War (1955–1975) Nhu Xuan Hua’s family fled to Belgium and France, and Hua was subsequently born in suburban Paris. As a second-generation immigrant she grew up between two cultures. After she left her parental home she felt a growing separation from her roots. She asked her relatives about their past within the hope of closing this gap and, in so doing, learning more about herself. The exhibition in Huis Marseille is effectively Hua’s artistic response to this research, presented in atmospheric installations of altars with associative artefacts.

Family history as the muse of an oeuvre

On the primary occasions on which Hua visited Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City as an adult, in 2016 and 2017, she felt herself each physically and mentally closer to her family history. It was the place to begin for the series Tropism, Consequences of a displaced memory, which runs as a typical thread throughout the exhibition. Images taken from Hua’s family archive have been digitally manipulated via an algorithm so that individuals or their surroundings dissolve into abstract lines and hues, without ever disappearing completely. What appears at first sight to be an altered present is definitely a dialogue with the past, and a representation of the perpetual movements of memories, changing and disappearing over time. ‘I like about my culture that we cherish the past. It manifests itself, for instance, in obsessively photographing every little thing, because in capturing and repeating, you imprint the memory and open the access to rememberance and re-membering’, she says.

Hua derived her series’ title from Tropismes by Nathalie Sarraute, a book that gave rise in 1957 to the term nouveau roman. With the word ‘tropism’ each Sarraute and Hua check with barely perceptible movements and the minuscule feelings of attraction or repulsion residing within the subconscious. These stirrings of the soul are prompted by instinctive associations or, perhaps, by an inherited memory. Several of the images within the Tropism series were taken before Hua’s birth, but she feels that this past continues in her. ‘Within the archive photos I see patterns that recur, unconsciously, in my very own life. They evoke strong emotions, regardless that I even have never experienced them in person.’

Artistic cross-pollination

Within the exhibition, assignments and autonomous work are intermingled. It reveals how closely these seemingly separate types of photography are connected. Hua draws her inspiration for each from the identical ingredients. Also her fashion work might be seen as a type of tropism; image details check with personal memories and central figures in Hua’s life. Oysters and oyster shells help her to recall moments along with her father – how as a baby she would watch her father painting within the garage, using the oyster shell as a palette, or how they enjoyed eating oysters together during Recent Yr celebrations.

Hua captures these kinds of non-public references in hyper-stylized images. With a passionate desire for perfection – an urge to prove herself to her parents who questioned her profession selection – Hua devotes attention to each smallest detail. The language barrier along with her father, who’s deaf and communicates only in Vietnamese or French sign language, has translated itself into a better concentrate on body language. This ends in exciting compositions that linger with you. It’s with good reason that, Hua sees herself principally as a storyteller.

Temple-like riches

Specially for this exhibition, Hua developed installations through which to display her work. They take the shape of 4 altars, with a symmetry and enthusiasm that reflect the Vietnamese visual preference for ‘more is best’. These installations are also full of non-public associations and attributes; for instance, potted geraniums are physically present but additionally continuously appear within the backdrop of her family photos. Other objects are a form of paraphernalia of a selected meeting or experience: ‘My favourite Disney film is Belle and the Beast, through which every object is alive and has a soul and a consciousness. That’s why I’m such a treasure keeper: objects carry memories.’

Tables, too, occupy a vital role. They’re an invite to take a seat down, to reflect, or enter into conversation with other visitors, but additionally they check with the undeniable fact that sharing a meal – actually in Vietnamese culture – is an expression of affection. While Hua missed physical expressions of affection equivalent to hugs and cuddles in her family, she has recaptured this love in food culture: eating with friends or in food appreciation.

The hug of a swan

Just as oysters check with her father and tangerines to her mother, the swan in Hug of a swan stands for the artist herself. When Hua moved to London she often suggested that individuals use the English word ‘swan’ as a method to accurately pronounce her name. ‘It reflects my lifelong struggle with my identity: how can you understand yourself in case your name, essentially the most fundamental way of identifying yourself, is mispronounced by others?’

Hug of a swan immerses visitors in vibrant installations and takes them towards the roots of Hua’s world. At the identical time, for the artist, the exhibition is a way of embracing her own past. Accordingly, the title is a distant reference to the ‘swan song’ – the song that publicizes a closure. An acceptance of ambivalent feelings concerning the past, opening Hua to the opportunity of a recent project.

“A stroke on the cheek for a re-membering combat against forgetfulness
By exposing all of this I’m talking to my father and I’m holding the hand of my mother
With the countless languages that I even have been given to talk
Whether out loud or in silence
More often than not in silence.”
Nhu Xuan Hua

The exhibition is accompanied by a book specializing in Hua’s Tropism series, which is offered within the museum shop.

While Nhu Xuan Hua (1989, Paris) was undergoing the admission procedure for the art academy in Paris, she spent a 12 months studying art history on the University of Paris after which one other 12 months studying film. In 2011 she accomplished the photography course on the Auguste Renoir art academy in Paris and a 12 months later she moved to London, where she now lives and works on commissions for the biggest fashion firms. One in every of her most famous shoots was the duvet of TIME Magazine in 2018 whose theme was ‘leaders of the following generation’, for which Hua photographed the K-pop band BTS.


Nhu Xuan Hua : Hug of a swan
Until December 4th, 2022
Huis Marseille
Keizersgracht 401
1016 EK Amsterdam, Netherlands

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