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Vietnamese American artist Dinh Q. Lê, known for his “photo-weaving” installations, dies at 56.

Vietnamese American multimedia artist  Dinh Q. Lê, known for his multimedia “photo-weaving” installations, passed away at the age of 56 on April 6th. His passing was confirmed in a Facebook post made by his family and additionally confirmed by his New York gallery P·P·O·W, which has represented the artist since 1998. 

Born in 1968 in Ha Tien, Vietnam, near the Cambodian border, Lê and his family witnessed the violence break out from the Khmer Rouge in 1978. Shortly after, the artist and his family fled to Thailand and then to the United States, where he earned his B.F.A. from UC Santa Barbara in 1989 and an M.F.A. from The School of Visual Arts in 1992. In 1996, he returned to Vietnam, landing in Ho Chi Minh City. 

Lê’s work, which includes photography, video, sculpture, and installation, is known for its focus on challenging politics, history, and memory, particularly regarding Southern Vietnam. His work taps into his perspective as a Vietnamese immigrant and a gay man. Lê’s first internationally groundbreaking work was Mot Coi Di Ve (1999), where he wove together thousands of family photographs into large-scale installations to represent the unreliable and fragmented threads of history and memory. This work would inaugurate his “photo-weavings” series, works that pay tribute to a Vietnamese tradition he learned from his aunt. 

In 2007, Lê founded Sàn Art, an artist-run space, library, and education center intended to help foster experimental creativity in Ho Chi Minh City. Lê’s contributions to cultural exchange were recognized with the Prince Claus Award in 2010. Lê, who regained Vietnamese citizenship in 2021, had recently opened a coastal floating studio in his home village, aiming to attract more artists to the area. 

His work has been featured in major exhibitions, including the 2013 Carnegie International, Documenta (13), the 50th Venice Biennale, the 2006 Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, and the 2008 Singapore Biennale, with solo shows at significant institutions such as Asia Society, the Museum of Modern Art, and MoMA PS1 in New York. 

P·P·O·W founder Wendy Olsoff described Lê as an “incredible humanitarian and artist” and reported to Artsy that he planned to announce a new direction for his work in 2025, aligning with the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. These works were to be abstract white-on-white weavings, which would resemble a cross between Anni Albers’s weavings and the methodical nature of Agnes Martin’s works. According to Olsoff, Lê wrote to her about the show, saying, “I want to use 2025 as an opportunity to announce a complete new direction in my work, and go against all the expectations…It is time for me to let go of the [Vietnam] War.” 

“It is a great pity we will never see these works and also lose valuable life lessons about how one can deal with trauma—personal and political,” Olsoff said.