An Viet* (Well Settled), 2018
HD video, stereo, colour
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 and the first Vietnamese councillor for Hackney. Through revisiting the archive and using Mr. Vu’s autobiography to facilitate conversations within the building, Pham explores how historical materials can generate discussions around marginalised british narratives, intergenerational care, cultural assimilation and the silent closures of community centres due to gentrification. By looking at the An Viet Foundations past achievements and the current founders ill health which ultimately led to its closure, Pham is interested in acts of futility, the heroic and poignancy as a methods to speak about universal human values, creating empathy beyond constructions of race.  


In 1982, An Viet started out as an informal network to support growing numbers of Vietnamese refugees (including a large proportion of ethnic Chinese who had been in Vietnam for many generations) settling in London.  They began to arrive in Britain as refugees in the late 1970s following the fall of Saigon and subsequent wars with China and Cambodia. They arrived and were supported in refugee camps such as Okenden Venture in the UK and were spread across the UK following the UK dispersal policy. The reasons for this policy was to reduce pressure on local authorities and for there not to be any backlash for people who may have believed the vietnamese were taking over. However the policy caused several issues such as disenfranchisement to the vietnamese community who didnt recieve enough language support, lack of employment support and integration. The community slowly gathered away from isolated rural areas and into town centres, eventually settling in London. They then set up their own organisations to support themselves when government were not willing to. A committee was formed and set up An Viet Foundation in the 1980s. An Viet provided much needed services to Vietnamese/-Chinese and non-Vietnamese/Chinese refugees.  Beyond the basic services it offered, An Viet was a pioneer in community work for many years. However in 2016, Mr Vu Khanh Thanh, founder and director of the organisation, retired from his role at An Viet.  The community centre struggled on for a few months but eventually shut its doors.  Last year, the Hackney Chinese Community Services suggested a three-way partnership with Kalungan (a Filipino consortium of organisations), to reinvigorate the An Viet space, and to keep the land it sits on from property developers.

*“The word ‘well-settled’ is ‘an cư’. But ‘an’ can also mean ‘bình an’ which means ‘peace’. In addition to that the word ‘an’ can mean ‘safe’ as derived from the word ‘an toàn’. Việt is the name of the ethnic people of Vietnam, but comes from an old word to mean ‘the people from the land beyond’. ‘An Viet’ has multiple meanings for multiple people, but one could say for the ‘people beyond the land’, here the Viet people have left the Viet land, and moved to a foreign land, through the An Viet foundation they have been able to find safety, peace, but have also managed to settle well.”

-Text by Cuong Pham, MA Southeast Asian Studies, SOAS


“An Viet (Well Settled)” is a film that 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 is interested in the change of values in society in order to understand where we are heading in the future. The film is like a love song, celebrating 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 those in power not being held accountable. Pham is interested in how civic activism can create a stronger sense of belonging. Furthermore he is interested in how the archive can create a sense of pride which overcomes feelings of inferiorities and racism.

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