News | 1 February 2016

Censored exhibition opens at Toi Poneke

New Zealand artist Mat Logan worked alongside Vietnamese artists Dao Tung and Tran Minh Duc on Toi Pōneke’s latest exhibition, Howdy Cowboy.

Howdy Cowboy - three works
Howdy Cowboy

Three artists explore Vietnam’s relationship with its history and the rest of the world through video, sculpture, photography and their evolving friendship.

Denied permission to exhibit publicly in Vietnam by government censors, Logan is opening Howdy Cowboy at Toi Pōneke Gallery in February.

Logan's work is the result of a 3-month Asia New Zealand Foundation Residency in Vietnam in 2015. He spent his time at San-Art in Ho Chi Minh City, and at Manzi in Hanoi.

The New Zealander was lucky to have Tran Minh Duc by his side throughout as his coordinator and liaison.

“We worked closely together, searching the streets of Ho Chi Minh City for materials,” he says. “Duc is an artist in his own right and when we talked we realised we had a lot in common.”

Duc introduced Mat to Dao Tung, an artist and sound engineer he had worked with in the past who he felt could also contribute to their shared interests.  

Mat Logan says: “The exhibition was a way to create an opportunity for local artists to exhibit, and a way for the art community there to see more contemporary art in the city. The contemporary art scene is very limited – a huge city like Ho Chi Minh  with a population of over 8 million people has fewer galleries than Wellington City.”

To exhibit work publicly in Vietnam, artists have to apply to the Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism for a license. After a lengthy process including a 28-page application form, and repeated visits to the ministry offices, government censors denied Howdy Cowboy permission to be shown publicly.

While Howdy Cowboy is not overtly political the government’s fear of subversion means contemporary art is actively discouraged. Having to relocate the whole exhibition to New Zealand so it can be viewed publicly speaks volumes about some of the challenges still faced in Vietnam.

Born in Vietnam just before the economic reforms of the mid 1980s, Vietnamese artists Dao Tung and Tran Minh Duc make work that is focussed on their experiences living in a transitional and rapidly changing society.

Their work often looks to their parent’s generation, defined by war, then through their own childhoods and the present – Vietnam looking relentlessly forward, at times with no view to the past. Ho Chi Minh City in particular, the pair says, is a city firmly focussed on progress.

The exhibition was installed privately in Ho Chi Minh City in November last year. Dia Projects, where Howdy Cowboy was exhibited for invited guests, is operated by the largest collector of contemporary art in Vietnam.

Exhibiting Howdy Cowboy in a New Zealand context creates an avenue to view contemporary art made in Vietnam, but also an opportunity for a wider discussion regarding freedom of speech and expression.

Logan says the title Howdy Cowboy refers to a combination of things. “In a sense it’s a bit tongue in cheek. Cowboys conjure up images of rebellion – it’s the generic pioneering Western foreigner, representing the clash of cultures.”

Duc, Tung and Mat were often greeted by the costumed cowboys on the door of a local café “Howdy Cowboy” where they’d meet regularly to discuss their exhibition.