On March 29, East Asian studies major Lêna Bùi ’07 spoke to gallerygoers at the opening reception of her exhibit, Proliferation, at the College of East Asian Studies. In Proliferation, Bùi draws on her context of living in a rapidly changing country. Her abstract paintings, photographs, and candid video broadly examine the less obvious effects of development on the socio-political and cultural fabrics of the country, specifically dealing with people’s negotiation with nature in various forms.
Based in Saigon, Bùi has exhibited in France, Vietnam, Japan, and the U.S.
“I see how much my Wesleyan education has informed my practice. I was not in studio art, but I see my education in my art,” she said. “Art making as a process of inquiry and learning…. I learn as I make work, and it loops back.”
During her gallery talk, Bùi explained how more than 100 trees were being cut down to widen a street in Vietnam. “I thought this was a massacre. I wanted to preserve these trees in some way, so I started doing [charcoal] rubbings of their stumps to remember the trees. I thought I’d be able to see how old they were, but all we could see were the saw marks.” Bùi spent about 100 hours on the street and made about 20 rubbings of the trees, which, it turned out were actually native to Africa—and their presence in Vietnam was the result of colonialism. “My work in the street became performance art,” she said. “People came over to talk to me and I had all sorts of conversations that I wouldn’t have had if I’d been inside a gallery.”
Bui’s mixed media painting titled Myopia (2018) features one of the stump rubbings, combined with diverse creative influences from biological/natural areas as well as more modern, colorful, plastic interpretations.
Eat by Faith (2012) is a series of photographs of vegetarian protein food sold in the market in Vietnam. “The extent to which these food items are shaped and sculpted to imitate actual animals and animal parts indicates an ingrained cultural attitude towards meat as a symbol of wealth and health. It is also a reflection of how much we eat with our eyes. In contrast, nowadays meat in the supermarket is displayed in a way that visually removes it as far as possible from the original animal.” The exhibition is on display through Friday, May 26. The gallery is open from noon to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. (Photos by Olivia Drake)