How are representations of the female body visualized and introduced to the western gaze in colonized southeast Asia? How do these representations sustain the programmes of colonization? How do these representations grant or deny subjectivity to subject of the gaze? And perhaps most importantly, how do we reconsider these women as subjects seeking political agency rather than remain as flattened images of a historical moment?
These are the questions posed by Huong Ngô in her most recent show, Reap the Whirlwind, at Aspect Ratio Gallery in West Town, and are responded to by great effect on the part of the artist. By pairing early 1900s popular media from colonial Vietnam with her ongoing research of women involved in the concurrent anti-colonial movement through the use of pulp novels, handmade books filled with ominous black pages that reveal their text through human touch and life sized prints obscuring female figures through a patina of obsidian black. The show is highly polished and immaculately conceived.
While her previous projects concentrated on the history of women who were a part of the resistance movement and their tactics of counter surveillance, Reap the Whirlwind focuses on their foil–the hyper-visible, exoticized concubine that was the subject of a number of novels and widely-circulated colonial postcards of the time. By deconstructing the hyper-sexualized female subject, Ngo delivers an exhibition worthy of deeper exploration on the part of the artist and repeated viewing by the show’s audience.
Spencer Hutchinson, Chicago Editor
Volume 33 no 2 November / December 2018 p 31