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Dinh Q. Lê, Weaver of Photographs, Dies Aged 56

Dinh Q. Lê passed away suddenly in Ho Chi Minh City on 6 April following a stroke, according to Hong Kong's 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, who represented the artist.

'He was a visionary artist and brought so much to the international and Vietnamese art scenes,' said the gallery's founder, Katie de Tilly.

'His works reflected on the issues we face today as well as the reverberating impacts of the Vietnam War,' she said. 'He was an extraordinary storyteller in his art and connected us all through these very real and human stories.'

Emi Eu, director of STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery who represented Lê in Singapore, emphasized the artist's impact on the wider art sphere.

'His invaluable contribution, in particular through Sàn Art, has nurtured and paved the way for the younger generation of artists,' Eu said.

Lê was born in Ha Tien, near Vietnam's border with Cambodia, in 1968. Following the Khmer Rouge's invasion of Vietnam, his family escaped to Los Angeles in 1978.

He went on to earn a BFA from UC Santa Barbara in 1989 and an MFA from The School of Visual Arts in New York in 1992 before returning to Vietnam in 1996.

Lê developed a technique of weaving together photographs to create images that captured the complex and contradictory histories and identities of exiles and migrants.

'When I was in America, I never really fit in, and kept harboring this romanticized image of Vietnam,' Lê said in a 2023 interview with Singaporean art magazine Bakchormeeboy.

'When I went back, it was completely different from my memory, but somehow deep down I knew it's where I'm supposed to be.'

Lê said that, 'now that I'm older and more confident about my identity, the idea of belonging to a place is no longer as important to me, and I accept that I am a product of two worlds.'

The artist's practice also includes video works and installations. South China Sea Pishkun (2009), for instance, is a 3D animation of military helicopters crashing into the sea. The work's title alludes to Native Americans hunting bison by driving them off cliffs known as 'pishkuns', an action Le saw echoed in the helicopters pushed off U.S. aircraft carriers into the South China Sea to make room for more to land when America made its panicked retreat from Saigon in 1975.

Alongside his own work, Lê co-founded the Vietnam Foundation for the Arts (VNFA), based between Los Angeles and Ho Chi Minh City, to support Vietnamese artists. With funding from VNFA, he and three other artists established artist-led space Sàn Art in Ho Chi Minh City in 2007.

Sàn Art celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2022 having produced over 110 exhibitions and projects, as well as numerous events and publications.

As well as 10 Chancery Lane and STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery, Lê was represented by P·P·O·W in New York, Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland, and Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Los Angeles.