|QT Luong HCMC statement|
My father kept a portrait of Ho Chi Minh on the bookshelf in his bedroom while uncles, cousins and in-laws fled communist Vietnam, some risking their lives as "boat people". Ho Chi Minh, the communist revolutionary leader who was president (1945–1969) of North Vietnam represented everything they were fleeing. In the California communities where many Vietnamese expatriates have relocated after 1975, the mere display of Ho Chi Minh's portrait in a storefront or a photographic exhibit has caused passionate protests.
In the wake of the reunification in 1975, denizens of the newly renamed Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, formerly Saigon) had to buy and display Ho Chi Minh's portrait in the best spot of their homes to stay out of trouble with the new authorities. A third of a century later, although Vietnam remains one of four single-party communist states in the world, some effort is now needed to locate depictions of Ho Chi Minh in HCMC. Yet, the President's image is still a presence in the lives of contemporary Vietnamese.
This work attempts to come to terms with Vietnam's history through an examination of the meaning of Ho Chi Minh's legacy as reflected in his iconic presence in contemporary Vietnam. By making straight photographs with images of Ho Chi Minh in multiple contexts, I am raising questions about their significance and what his image's continued presence says about influences, change, history, capitalism, communism, and control.
Whether people believe he was a liberator or a murderous dictator, few would argue with the statement that Ho Chi Minh was one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century. Nowadays, since HCMC is the centerpiece of a free-market economy increasingly connected to the world, what is Ho Chi Minh's legacy beyond a carefully cultivated figurehead image? Is he still admired by the common people, or just a subject of a cult of personality? Is he a sinister Big Brother figure, an obsolete icon to whom nobody pays attention to anymore, or a reassuringly familiar and respected symbol? What did millions of Vietnamese die for ? The conspicuous or ambiguous presence of Ho Chi Minh in the photographs raise socio-political questions and provide evidence for multiple readings of history.