Critics’ Picks

Nguyễn Quốc Dũng, Transgender life, 2017, Oil on canvas, diptych, 78 3/4 x 47 1/4" each.

Nguyễn Quốc Dũng, Transgender life, 2017, Oil on canvas, diptych, 78 3/4 x 47 1/4" each.


Nguyễn Quốc Dũng

Hatch Art Project
7 Yong Siak Street
January 7–February 12, 2023

Nguyễn Quốc Dũng’s oil-on-canvas paintings record the intricate mesh of quotidian intimacies among the people who dwell on the margins of Ho Chi Minh City. The artist provokes subtle confrontations by foregrounding often “invisible” subjects, such as transgender sex workers and migrant laborers.

The exhibition “The Lives of Others” derives from Nguyễn’s continued interest in depicting these oft-sidelined individuals within their most personal settings. In Transgender life, 2017, two life-size nude figures emerge through an intermittent flow of flesh-toned microstrokes atop broad swabs of pastel beige. They appear in awkward poses, hands akimbo or in a stiff recline; their bodies fluctuate between ease and edge, not entirely estranged from the painter yet clearly not relaxed. At the same time, the sitters’ nakedness hints at a soft, palpable trust, despite the subtle tension inherent to the semi-intrusive act of representation. This tension builds in Nguyễn’s smaller-scale paintings of domestic scenes, where members of migrant families assume half-rigid, half-fluid stances in cluttered, almost claustrophobic homes. Only in Suburban and New Urban, both 2021, do the nude subjects get outdoors, where their color-patch bodies haunt the empty streets of development projects. Nguyễn’s palette of cheerful pastels heightens the enigmatic quality of these ghost-town settings, raising questions about the realities of marginalized communities amid contemporary urbanization. The artist's protagonists remain stoic, yet their intense gazes and peculiar postures speak volumes: an ode to human vulnerability, a subtle subversion of realities, born out of the interstice between exposure and intimacy.