Friday, January 23, 2009

Brian Doan - Context Matters

there's a new show in the cypress college photography department by brian doan. brian and i were classmates in the photo department years ago. he was an adjunct instructor here for the past few semesters, but is a full time photography instructor at another school now. i am refraining from mentioning where in case there are those who might seek him out to harm him in any way. brian is a sweetheart and brings us moon cakes to eat sometimes. okay, it's mostly me who eats the moon cake, the others don't seem too fond of them. hmmm, maybe it's something you have to grow up with.

the pictures have been up for a few days and the first time i saw them, i didn't think much of them. it wasn't that i didn't think much of the images themselves, i was just used to seeing pictures on the wall; it was another semester and yet another show. they were portraits of vietnamese people and some landscape shots. i walked past them dozens of times, barely taking a second glance, until i started hearing that there was some sort of controversy surrounding them. what controversy? okay, there was one picture with a couple embracing each other on a bed naked. could that be it? it wasn't that bad. it must have been; some people just don't handle nudity in public well. it turns out, that wasn't it.

jerry burchfield, an instructor in the department and the gallery director, handed me two newspapers, both the los angeles times. one was from january 10th and the other from January 18. The controversy was over a picture of a vietnamese girl in a red tank top with a star in the middle, resembling the flag of communist vietnam, sitting next to a statue of ho chi minh.

a vietnamese women that works in the building heard about the show. she expressed very firmly how offended she was that the show was up. she even made it a point to let jerry and joyce (the fine arts dean) know how she felt.

what i saw was a girl sitting next to a table. what the vietnamese woman saw was an endorsement of communism. context matters.

signs quickly went up stating that the images in the gallery contained nudity and some may be “politically controversial.” a meeting was held to discuss what would happen if things got out of hand during the reception that's to be held tuesday, feb. 3. would we pull the show? would we censor the images?

earlier this month a show brian was involved in, "F.O.B. II: Art Speaks" at the vietnamese arts & letters association center in santa ana, closed due to community protest. the exhibit, which contains works by over 50 artists, offended some members of vietnamese american community - many of whom endured great struggle due to communism in vietnam. one of brian's images was defaced. apparently, it was spray painted and a red thong was taped to it. to learn more check out the los angeles times or the orange county register, both reported on this issue.

i wonder how many of those protesting knew what the images were about or did they just see the work and react. i heard people saying that the images shouldn't be up. i've heard the argument that this is like putting up images of swastikas and nazis in a community of holocaust victims or pictures of the KKK in a predominately black neighborhood.

several years ago there was another show in the photography department by glen stern. glen takes pictures of graffiti all over the world. this exhibit contained an image of a star of david equated to a swastika. glen spoke to cliff lester, a jewish professor in the department, and explained that there was an image cliff might find offensive. glen explained that he too was jewish and the images were not meant to suggest that he endorsed the messages contained in the images in any way, but it was a documentation of how the people of a certain area felt about the united states, about judaism, among various other topics and how they expressed it through this graffiti. after that cliff was okay with it. context matters.

then, i thought of the museum of tolerance with it's strong focus on the history of the holocaust. should that be closed too because it's insensitive to people that went through it because it happens to show images pertaining to it?

i wonder why those who want the show shut down left vietnam in the first place to come to a place like the united states. was it for the freedom? if the reason they came here was to have those freedoms, why come here only to try to take it away from others?

brian’s family is from south vietnam. his father was imprisoned for 10 years. brian said, "I was imprisoned sometimes at 10 and 15 when I was trying to escape Vietnam with my family." At 15 he spent 11 months in a re-education camp and was beaten regularly. he is not a communist, he is not insensitive to what went on, he lived it.

to hear brian's side of the story, come listen to his talk on Feb 3, 2009 @ 7pm in the cypress college photography department. call 714-484-7244 for more information.

brian, i'm proud of you. i'll buy the moon cakes this time.

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