Tuan Andrew Nguyen

Karen and Doug Riley Contemporary Artists Project (CAP) Gallery exhibitions are supported by Douglas County, Catherine & Terry Ferguson, and Sara Foxley.

This exhibition is free. Timed tickets are required for all Museum visitors. Make your free reservation today.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s (Vietnamese, b. 1976) The Boat People chronicles a group of children who stumble upon a long-abandoned island while exploring the high seas on a make-shift boat. Led by a fierce girl named Riana, the film’s protagonists unearth the island’s history as they discover relics from an earlier civilization, including statuary, gas masks, and weapons. The group takes these objects to a workshop, where they meticulously recreate them in wood. Then, curiously, they set their reproductions on fire. Meanwhile, while wandering the island’s beaches, Riana encounters the head of a statue sitting in the sand. The head comes to life and the inquisitive young girl engages her companion in a thoughtful dialogue about the passage of time, the nature of memory, and the inevitability of death.

The derogatory term “boat people” was coined in the 1970s to describe Vietnamese refugees who left their homeland by ship between the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and the mid-1990s. Nguyen and his family were among the approximately 800,000 individuals who fled. With this video, the artist reclaims the expression “boat people” to reflect on his personal experience of migration and highlight the parallels between the mass exodus from Vietnam and the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East.

The Boat People centers Nguyen’s interest in the origins and shifting meanings of objects, a topic that has become increasingly significant as former colonial powers have started to reckon with monuments that honor historical oppressors. Nguyen explains: “I am interested in objects that have survived through time, objects that humanity has created, and in turn has inherited. Objects hold testimony, they have political charge. Sometimes they are oppressive and violent and sometimes they beg for forgiveness. How and when are these dead objects resurrected? How are their significances reframed?”

Nguyen holds a BA from University of California, Irvine, and MFA from California Institute of Arts, Valencia. He is a founding member of the artist collective The Propeller Group (TPG). His independent work and collaborative projects with TPG have recently been featured in exhibitions at Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museo Jumex, Mexico City; Minneapolis Institute of Art; and Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Nguyen was featured as a solo artist in the Sharjah and Beirut Biennials in 2019 and the 2017 Whitney Biennial, and TPG was included in the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015.

What's pictured: Tuan Andrew Nguyen (Vietnamese, b. 1976), The Boat People, 2020, single-channel video, 4k, Super 16mm transferred to digital, color, 5.1 surround sound, 20 mins. Co-produced by Bellas Artes Projects and James Cohan, New York. © Tuan Andrew Nguyen 2020. Image courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York.