An Viet (Well Settled), 2018
HD video installation, stereo sound, colour, furniture, framed print
19 mins 20 secs



Royal Academy of Art, London

8 June- 1 July 2018

‘An Viet (Well Settled)’, 2018, is a video installation exploring the history and current reality of An Viet Foundation- a closed down community centre in Hackney formerly serving Vietnamese refugees for over 35 years providing language support, employment training, business advice, health and social activities, the first Vietnamese UK housing association, a restaurant and a Southeast Asian research institute. It was founded by Mr Vu Thanh Khanh MBE who was a Vietnamese boat refugee, the first Vietnamese councillor for Hackney and recieved a MBE from the Queen in 2006. An Viet Foundation pioneered several projects including outreach educational workshops with secondary schools, proposals for a Vietnam Village as part of the London Olympics and economic development partnerships between the UK and craft villages in Hai Duong, Vietnam. Vietnamese refugees started arriving to Britain following the fall of Saigon in the Vietnam American War and subsequent wars with China and Cambodia. The UK resettled several thousand but its own dispersal policy created disenfranchisement, isolation and lack of community. Vietnamese refugees began to move to larger cities such as Birmingham and London, and self organise to create their own community centres.

The film revisits these many historical layers from the artist’s personal viewpoint as a second-generation Vietnamese Londoner.  Will Pham introduces the film with a BBC news report from the late 90s, featuring Mr Vu recounting his escape from Vietnam. He then revisits the centre in 2018, where he facilitates conversations about the history of the An Viet Foundation such as a reading by Toan, Mr. Vu’s son, from his father’s autobiography. Pham also focuses on objects and materials within the building such as Vietnamese new year masks, multi coloured dragon costumes and archival images, reflecting on memory, time, light and Vietnamese music. The film celebrates the legacy of the An Viet Foundation’s achievements against a precarious socio-political backdrop where community spaces are being systematically dismantled, areas becoming gentrified and a growing inequality between rich and poor. Pham is interested in how civic activism can create a sense of belonging, pride and poignancy despite the futile act to affect social change in the face of broader structural issues. Pham is interested in using the archive and historical objects as tools to address contemporary political issues and imagining the future.

The wider context of this work is austerity policies and its root causes due to the 2008 financial crash which was caused in part by reckless loans by banks and mortgage lending. The by-product of government cuts to public spending lead to cuts in public services, closures in community centres and loss of jobs. This led to the scapegoating and blame on immigrants and refugees which in part resulted in the Brexit referendum. The wider context of this work is globalisation and Britain adjusting itself after the collapse of the British Empire and decolonisation and the flaws within the design of capitalism itself that causes financial crashes. 


Film credits:

Director, Camera, Editor, Sound, Subtitles: Will Pham
Cast in order of appearance: Neba K, Toan Vu, Cuong Pham, Hana Le
Music, translation, editing support: Cuong Pham, Hana Le
Post-production sound: Rob Szeliga
Colour correction: Clara Jo
Installation: Lidija Kononenko, Rachel Jones, Harminder Judge, RA workshop team, Hau-Yu Tam
Archival material, chairs and wooden shelving unit provided by An Viet Foundation
Text read from ‘Catholic with Confucian tendencies: The extreme adventures of a Vietnamese boat person by Vu Khanh Thanh’.
Song 1: Còn nhớ còn thương [I still long for, I still love]’ by Phương Đại & Phương Hồng Quế
Song 2: ‘Ru Con [Lullaby]’ from Vietnam: Songs of Liberation

Photo credit: Andy Keate