Record, Retrieve, Reactivate, 2018
A series of actions to revitalise a closed down community centre

An Viet Foundation, London

10 February- 31 March 2018

The exhibition focuses on a series of actions/ interventions to revitalise the An Viet Foundation, a former vietnamese refugee community centre in Hackney. This is by inviting artists to reactivate parts of the building using discussion, performance and curation. Will Pham presented a 3 channel video installation, a study of damage and care, picking up details of the buildings surface, revealing cleaning and transformation of the space. Sung Tieu performed ‘inferiority complex’ in the dark, Jalaikon and Ha Vu discussed magazines and print media, and Hau Yu Tam facilitated a focus group based on her society LESAM. The central work was a display of objects, banners and photographs from the An Viet Foundations archive by Will Pham and Cuong Pham.

This exhibition uses the urgency of this political moment around community, identity and the urgency of the founder Mr.Vu’s ill health, as a timely way to look at the 36 year history of the An Viet Foundation. Objects in the archive are used as starting points with the materials reframed, enlarged and repositioned in the space to speak and negotiate manifold histories and narratives. The exhibition explores questions such as how does an exhibition come about? What is curating? Whose stories get spoken for? Whose responsibility is it to care for these materials? What happens with these stories and objects? By creating a form of collectivity, this exhibition hopes to not find solutions individually but to form solidarity and collaborative practise which in itself, relates to the initial energy that drove first generation vietnamese refugees to self organise and start the foundation 40 years ago. In a way, this work speaks about what is civic activism? How is society and culture formed? How and what institutions are available for certain communities and what does it mean for that community when an institution has died or supposedly achieved its mission and has to close?

Through creating an exhibition as a form of civic action and inviting prominent people including the mayor of hackney, local MPs and other stakeholders, the exhibition shed new light and value upon this community centre. Following from this and through the tireless ambition and negotiations from other stakeholders such as Hackney Chinese Community Services and Kalangun, Hackney Council pledged to support £400k in investment and a further £35k to set up services and renovate the building. The An Viet Foundation however, was formally dissolved due to outstanding debts and replaced by the chinese and filipino community centres leaving further questions around the inheritance of An Viet Foundations objects, histories and narratives.

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

An Viet* (Well Settled), 2018
HD video, stereo sound, colour
19 mins 20 secs
Exhibited at Diaspora, Ma Homey, Space_31, Berlin

Curated by TROI OI (Sung Tieu & Nhu Duong)

Space_31, Berlin

1 - 30 November 2018

TROI OI conceives a group exhibition of contemporary artists, fashion designers and musicians from diaspora communities originally from Southeast Asia and considers the recent and ongoing movement of people within and away from the region after the Cold War, and its related aspects of migration, dislocation, resettlement and hybridity.

Amy Lien & Enzo Camacho
Samuel Ibram
Mai-Thu Perret
Will Pham
Soda Plains
TROI OI (Sung Tieu & Nhu Duong)

In “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” Jamaican-born, British sociologist and cultural theorist Stuart Hall, addresses issues of identity in relation to cultural practice and proposes thinking of cultural identity as a ‘production’, constantly in process and constituted within, and not outside, representation. Based on the black diaspora in England, he describes the experience of the migrant as one of displacement and hybridity, in cultures and experiences. He concluded that individuals have more than one identity: the first is based on shared cultural codes, history and collectivity, which people hold in common and that is artificially imposed as “selves”; and the second, which is based on an active process of production, which responds to ruptures and points of difference and is therefore a matter of ‘becoming’ as well as ‘being’, continuously transforming through a ‘play of history, culture and power’.*

Taking the artworks as a starting point in engaging with socio-historical or autobiographical accounts of the diaspora experience, the exhibition draws attention to the act of crossing permeable, geopolitical and cultural borders. These experiences may be configured by mobility, social exclusion, integration and new identity formation.

Conceived as a platform to initiate dialogue on diaspora and movement through art, fashion and music, “Diaspora, Ma Homey”, specifically investigates two defining passages of dispersion: the first in regards to exiting, or leaving the home country for personal, political or economic reasons and the second with being forced to culturally adapt, transform, integrate or hybridise within the new home country.

Together, these migratory passages invite new ways of thinking about borders as an enduring cultural and geopolitical divide in a progressively borderless global society.

Developed around the notion of ‘diaspora’ as methodological framework, the works not only reflect the artists’ impression of their own experiences of transitory life, but also examine the migratory circumstances that have shaped Europe as a region of diverse ethnicities, religions, and languages.

Featuring diverse practices, “Diaspora, Ma Homey” doesn’t seek to define, nor survey, “diasporic” art, fashion or music but to be a conversation with the audience about the experience of diaspora that reveals itself in the works, by exploring the everyday significance of territorial, ideological and social borders, political and cultural identity, and home and belonging.

* Stuart Hall “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” (1994)

TROI OI is an interdisciplinary project between Nhu Duong and Sung Tieu offering a platform to examine their cultural heritage as Vietnamese immigrants living in Western Europe.



Little Vietnam, 2019
Super 8 film transferred to digital, stereo sound, colour, signage, furniture, vietnamese food, events
16 mins 40 secs

Turf Projects, London

24 May- 6 July 2019

Turf Projects presents a new commission, ‘Little Vietnam’, the first UK solo exhibition by London-born artist Will Pham.

Since his work at the An Viet Foundation, Pham has brought his exploration closer to home focusing on how charity has informed his own family and the British Vietnamese refugee experience. Through extensive research, Pham identified the work of Ockenden Venture and Save the Children Fund based at Hampton Court as key charity organisations that supported his own family and other vietnamese child refugees in the 1970s/80s settle in the UK following unification after the Vietnam war. Pham travelled to Vietnam to inform this work as well as moving back to live with his parents and worked at the family restaurant in London. 

For this exhibition, instead of revealing specific personal testimonies, Pham presents a super 8 film paired with a musical score by An Ton Nhat creating a reflective space to meditate on history, reconciliation and gratitude through image and sound. Pham also presents a selection of vietnamese food by Little Vietnam restaurant which has been run by his parents for over 6 years in nearby South Wimbledon. On the opening night, Pham invited Rosalie Bell and Natalie Bell to speak about their work at Coin Street/Colombo Community Centres, a screening of their film and an exploration of how vietnamese heritage informs community work. Pham has also provided a range of books and a Channel 4 TV report in 1984 about the vietnamese refugees which contextualises and frames the work in this exhibition.

Through approaching this exhibition on multiple levels, collaborations and events, Pham presents a shift in attitude that embraces family and dialogue in order to heal from intergenerational traumas caused by geopolitical violence. Despite these wars happening several decades ago, Pham is interested in how violence and the lack of dialogue is passed through generations. As we experience increasing violence, warfare and terrorism, Pham insists we find new ways to heal and reconcile with the past. Pham goes further to contextualise the exhibition as framed within a shopping mall context and its conflicts with consumerism and capitalism as essential drivers for imperialism and eventual colonisation of countries abroad for raw materials and wealth extraction causing warfare.

The exhibition and events were made possible with the generous support of the Arts Council England & Croydon Council.

Conversation with Will Pham and Natalie Tan: 

Film Credits:

Director, Camera, Editor: Will Pham
Music composer: An Ton Nhat
Food: Little Vietnam Restaurant
Installation: Turf Projects
Photo Credit: Tim Bowditch