Huis Marseille: Nhu Xuan Hua: Hug of a swan - The Eye of Photography Magazine

Huis Marseille: Nhu Xuan Hua: Hug of a swan – The Eye of Photography Magazine

House Marseille presents the very first museum exhibition of the Franco-Vietnamese artist Nhu Xuan Hua (1989, Paris), a remarkable new talent. Hua has made a name for himself as a photographer for magazines such as Vogue, The Wall Street Journal, Dazed Beauty, DANSK and TIME Magazine and has worked on commissions for major fashion brands like Kenzo, Maison Margiela, Dior and Levi’s. Nevertheless, fashion photography is only one of her talents. The exhibition Hug of a swan highlights the diversity of his artistic work, which also takes the form of installations and free-standing works inspired by family photos. The exhibition shows that these categories are inseparable from each other; inspiration for all of Hua’s creations comes from personal and shared memories.

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War (1955-1975), Nhu Xuan Hua’s family fled to Belgium and France, and Hua was later born in the suburbs of Paris. As a second-generation immigrant, she grew up between two cultures. After leaving the parental home, she felt a growing separation from her roots. She asked loved ones about their past in hopes of bridging that gap and, in doing so, learning more about herself. The exhibition at Huis Marseille is effectively Hua’s artistic response to this search, presented in atmospheric installations of altars with associative artifacts.

Family history as the foundation of a work

On the first occasions Hua visited Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam as an adult, in 2016 and 2017, she felt both physically and mentally closer to her family history. This is the starting point of the series Tropisme, Consequences of a displaced memory, the common thread of the exhibition. Images taken from Hua’s family archives have been digitally manipulated via an algorithm so that people or their surroundings dissolve into abstract lines and colors, never completely disappearing. What appears at first sight as an altered present is actually a dialogue with the past, and a representation of the perpetual movements of memories, changing and disappearing over time. “I love in my culture that we cherish the past. This manifests, for example, in obsessively photographing everything, because by capturing and repeating, you imprint memory and open up access to remembering and re-membering,” she says.

Hua took the title of his series from Tropismes by Nathalie Sarraute, a book which in 1957 gave rise to the term new novel. With the word “tropism”, Sarraute and Hua refer to barely perceptible movements and the tiny feelings of attraction or repulsion residing in the subconscious. These agitations of the soul are caused by instinctive associations or, perhaps, by an inherited memory. Several of the photographs in the Tropism series were taken before Hua was born, but she feels that this past lives on in her. “In the archive photos, I see patterns that recur, unconsciously, in my own life. They evoke strong emotions, even though I’ve never experienced them in person.

Artistic Cross Pollination

In the exhibition, missions and independent work mingle. It reveals how intertwined these seemingly distinct forms of photography are. Hua draws inspiration for both from the same ingredients. Her fashion work can also be seen as a form of tropism; image details refer to personal memories and central figures in Hua’s life. Oysters and oyster shells help her reminisce about times with her dad – how as a child she watched her dad paint in the garage, use the oyster shell as a palette, or how they enjoyed eating oysters together during the New Year celebrations.

Hua captures these kinds of personal references in hyper-stylized imagery. With a passionate desire for perfection – an urge to prove himself to his parents who questioned his career choice – Hua pays attention to the smallest details. The language barrier with her father, who is deaf and only communicates in Vietnamese or French sign language, has resulted in a narrower focus on body language. This results in exciting compositions that linger with you. It’s not for nothing that Hua thinks of herself primarily as a storyteller.

Riches worthy of a temple

Especially for this exhibition, Hua has developed installations in which to display his work. They take the form of four altars, with a symmetry and exuberance that reflects the Vietnamese visual preference for ‘more is more’. These installations are also full of personal associations and attributes; for example, potted geraniums are physically present but also appear frequently as the backdrop to his family photos. Other objects are a sort of paraphernalia of a particular encounter or experience: “My favorite Disney film is Beauty and the Beast, in which each object is alive and has a soul and a consciousness. That’s why I’m such a keeper of treasures: objects carry memories. »

The tables also occupy an important place. They are an invitation to sit down, reflect or engage in conversation with other visitors, but they also refer to the fact that sharing a meal – certainly in Vietnamese culture – is an expression of love. While Hua lacked physical expressions of love such as hugs and hugs in her family, she found that love in food culture: eating with friends or enjoying food.

The hug of a swan

Just as the oysters refer to her father and the tangerines to her mother, the swan in Hug of a swan represents the artist herself. When Hua moved to London, she often suggested people use the English word “swan” to correctly pronounce her name. “It reflects my lifelong struggle with my identity: how can you know yourself if your name, the most basic way of identifying yourself, is mispronounced by others? »

hug of a swan immerses visitors in colorful installations and takes them to the roots of the world of Hua. At the same time, for the artist, the exhibition is a way of embracing his own past. Accordingly, the title is a distant reference to the “swan song” – the song that announces closure. An acceptance of ambivalent feelings about the past, opening Hua to the possibility of a new project.

« A blow on the cheek for a memorial fight against oblivion
Exposing it all I’m talking to my father and I’m holding my mother’s hand
With the countless languages ​​I’ve been given to speak
Whether aloud or silently
Mostly in silence. »
Nhu Xuan Hua

The exhibition is accompanied by a book dedicated to the series Tropisme de Hua, available in the museum shop.

While Nhu Xuan Hua (1989, Paris) followed the admission procedure for the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, she spent a year studying art history at the University of Paris and then another year. to study cinema. In 2011, she completed the photography course at the Auguste Renoir art academy in Paris and a year later moved to London, where she now lives and works on commissions for top fashion companies. One of his most famous shots was on the cover of TIME magazine in 2018 whose theme was “leaders of the next generation”, for which Hua photographed K-pop group BTS.

Nhu Xuan Hua: Hug of a Swan
Until December 4, 2022
House Marseille
Keizersgracht 401
1016 EK Amsterdam, Netherlands

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