While working as a Guggenheim fellow to document Vietnamese war amputees in 2012, Pipo Nguyen-duy began working on “(My) East of Eden” in the Mekong Delta. This project is the artist’s attempt to reclaim his childhood memories of growing up in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Beyond serving as the means to tell his stories, Nguyen-duy intends for these images to address issues such as legacy, hope, and regeneration.
Working with rural Vietnamese children in school uniforms, the artist created portraits and staged photographs reminiscent of 19th-century British landscape paintings where the environment and its inhabitants coexist in harmony. Against the backdrop of landscapes that bear the physical scars of war, “(My) East of Eden” is a celebration of the resilience and beauty of humanity. Forty years after the war, the once destroyed landscape with school children provides the perfect environment for photographs addressing regeneration, hope, history, and legacy. The uniformed kids placed in the idealized landscape without the presence of adults signify the beginning after the end. In one image a boy emerges from the lush landscape, while in another a boy and a girl lit by an ethereal light sit tranquilly by a duck pond that was once a bomb crater. These seemingly comforting images are in contrast to a photograph of school children playing war games and another portrait of a boy submerged in water as a drowning victim. With this body of work Nguyen-duy endeavors to weave a complex and multilayered narrative about the delicate attempt to rebuild a decimated paradise.
Pipo Nguyen-duy was born in Hue, Vietnam. Growing up within thirty kilometers of the demilitarized zone of the 18th Parallel, he describes hearing gunfire every day of his early life. He later immigrated to the United States as a political refugee.
Nguyen-duy has taken on many things in life in pursuit of his diverse interests. As a teenager in Vietnam, he competed as a national athlete in table tennis. He also spent some time living as a Buddhist monk in Northern India. Eventually Nguyen-duy earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics at Carleton College. He then moved to New York City, where he worked as a bartender and later as a nightclub manager. Finally, Nguyen-duy earned a Master of Arts in Photography, followed by a Master of Fine Arts in Photography, both from the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque.
Nguyen-duy has received many awards and grants including a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in Photography; a National Endowment for the the Arts; an En Foco Grant; a Professional Development Grant from the College Arts Association; a National Graduate Fellowship from the American Photography Institute; a Fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission; a B. Wade and Jane B. White Fellowship in the Humanities at Oberlin College; and three Individual Artist Fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council. He participated as an artist-in-residence at Monet’s garden through The Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Artists at Giverny Fellowship; as an artist-in-residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, California; and participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence program.
Nguyen-duy has lectured widely and his work is part of many public collections in the United States, Europe, and Asia. He is currently a professor teaching photography at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio.