Tra My Nguyen

Tra My Nguyen (b. 1992 Vietnam) is a visual artist and designer, who works with sculpture, textiles, and moving images. Nguyen’s work has been shown at the State of Fashion Netherlands, Arnhem (2022); Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn (2021); Dada Post, Berlin (2020); Positions Art Fair at Flughafen Tempelhof, Berlin (2020); Universität der Künste Hardenbergstraße, Berlin (2019); and Human Resources, Los Angeles (2018).
September 12, 2022
Tell us about your practice.
Working across sculpture, video, textile, and installation, my practice draws upon Vietnamese diaspora perspectives for re-contextualizing commodities and garments within the tangling nexus of hyper-globalization. By deploying speculative narratives, I explore the tensions of gender, labor, migration, and technology within the current neoliberal order.
Can you expand a little bit around the themes that you are exploring within your practice, and how it affects the medium and overall approach?
My practice proceeds with experimental craftsmanship, especially surrounding textiles, reimagining the material’s signifying meaning. Seizing methods of layering, collaging, and remixing of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ materials, my work reflects on multidimensional and intersectional perspectives. Additionally, working within the medium of moving images allows me to integrate fiction along with nonfiction visual and storytelling methodologies. Hence, my work is set within the digital as well as the physical realm.
You mentioned that it is imperative to intersect fashion and art. How do you consider the two in your practice and in making work?
My fashion design background allows me to analyze the contradictions of individualism as well as materialism by investigating gendered, racialized, and classed body politics. I am especially interested in setting my work in different contexts: How will the sculpture be perceived when it is worn by a human body? And how will it be perceived when I put it in a spatial context, ergo without the body?
Your practice around fashion and garment materials is grounded on your point of view on Vietnamese tradition, can you tell us a little bit about how you approach the connection between them?
While growing up in Vietnam, I can remember vividly the small details surrounding me every day. For instance, the softness of my mom’s áo dài silk dress or the coolness of my grandparents’ bamboo sheet. From those personal memories, I draw strength in creating works that are meaningful to me and hopefully also to the viewer. Thematizing my diaspora roots is a way of healing for me.
Although you studied fashion in school, your work since then has been more interdisciplinary delving (at times all at once) into sculpture, photography, video, and metalwork – what led you to take a more expansive approach in your practice?
Approaching interdisciplinary practices, my aim is to fade the harsh line between art and fashion practices. The crafts I learned during my fashion studies helped me a lot with experimenting with materiality. Fashion is a source of referencing popular culture and body politics. By further expanding my practice towards fine arts medium, my work is able to exceed the boundaries of the human body. The viewer is engaged to immerse in my mixed media approach.
Some of your recent work has been collaborative projects with other artists, and you’ve mentioned that being a goal of yours. What is your approach to creating work with others?
A collaborative project needs to be in a constant state of dialogue: exchanging ideas, concerns, and practices. The aim is to have a non-hierarchal co-creation process. My approach is to be organized and keep up with the communication within the group.

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