Born in 1968 at Ha-Tien, a South Vietnamese village not far from the Cambodian border, Dinh Q. Lê and his family survived the Vietnam War but fled to Los Angeles in 1979 because of Khmer Rouge’s invasion. He is amongst the first wave of Vietnamese migrants who studied art in the west and have since returned to the country.
One of his early projects is Mot Coi Di Ve (1998), which translates into “spending one’s life trying to find one’s way home”. Made into a quilt from 1,500 old photos of Vietnam, Lê inscribed – on the back of them – lines from Vietnam’s 19th-century epic poem The Tale of Kieu, letters sent home from soldiers during the war, and interviews with Vietnamese Americans about the Vietnam War.
“We couldn’t bring much with us when we fled Vietnam. When I moved back to Saigon in 1996, I went in search of my family photos in second-hand stores. I didn’t find the photos but I started collecting those that I saw. They were similar, but not exactly mine,” recalls Lê. “Because I didn’t want to limit the project with my personal perspective, I started buying images by the kilo. I bought about four to five kilograms of photos for the project, from which you will see that there were happy days even during the war.”
[ Detail of Mot Coi Di Ve / Courtesy of Dinh Q. Le ]