Hong’s artistic expression is rooted in her experience as an eight year old girl as one of the ‘Vietnamese Boat People’ fleeing Vietnam for Hong Kong before arriving in the UK in 1980.
Her exploration of displacement and exile through art has come after a career as a digital artist. She explains, “For many years I was reluctant to be an artist. Primarily because I was a refugee. I felt that I need to do something practical to earn a wage.” Accordingly, she graduated with a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art Sculpture followed by an MA 3D Computer Visualisation and Animation, and since 1996 has worked as Digital Artist on major Feature Films including: Babe Pig n the City, 10,000 BC and Ridley Scott’s epic film Gladiator.
Her father’s passing and the birth of her two daughters made her reconsider her decision.
“In recent years I could not deny my urge to tell my story through art, using the skills I have obtained in the film industry. I feel this is my destiny especially after the passing of my father. The many stories of unsung heroes left untold. I feel that my artwork benefits others and they enjoy it. I have mastered the skills that I need to create and communicate my visions. I am beginning to realised that Art could transcend language barriers, gender, sex, race, colour and religion. I started my childhood memories project 5 years ago when my daughter Jessica and Amelia was 10 and 6. My daughter brought brought me back to my own childhood. Seeing my two daughter at a similar age to myself when I first left Vietnam as a Boat Refugee made me felt that as if we were living on two parallel worlds, East and West, rich and poor.”
Hong has spent the last 5 years putting together a visual diary of digital art work of childhood memories for her daughters, a diary that honours the unsung heroes in times of adversity that sacrificed for their loved ones without medals and honours.
She’s run Artist Open Houses and exhibitions, with her personal work exhibited in various prestigious galleries such as: The Mall Galleries (London), The Smith Gallery (London) Righton Gallery (Manchester) and Maidstone Museum and Art Gallery.
Her work is a journey of self discovery, exploring universal themes of love, loss, separation and hope – and also those of other Vietnamese boat children.
An interview with Hong
How would you describe your work?
‘What makes me who I am?’ Where do I belong? My project is about my life as one of the ‘Vietnamese Boat People’: my refugee’s story through the lens of an artist. My project will be enhanced by using the collective memory of my refugee peers; a social snap shot of their lives – some of whom attended secondary school with me. Where are they now? What has become of them? What are their social values? The research will be made into digital images, exhibited in galleries/events and have the potential to be made into a book/film.
A story shows how ‘Triumph from Tragedy’ have made me who I am today. How hopes and dreams have kept me alive and help me to become a stronger person. And I am really proud to be me. I hope that my art will inspire and enrich my children and their generation to conquer fear of the unknown.
How has your work been impacted by your experience of displacement?
I realised that my memories about my journey as boat refugee was very patchy. I think as children we block out bad experiences in order for us to continue and adapt. I was born in Vietnam in the 1970s. I flee Vietnam when I was 8 years old on a rickety old boat to Hong Kong and stayed in refugee camp for a year, before flying to England – to my adopted mother land in 1980. Jumping forward several decades, I am fortunate enough to live to tell the tale. My art work is based on the themes of displacement, sense of not belonging, separation, loss, hope – promise of a better life, and childhood memories of a distant time and place.
I didn’t leave Vietnam with my brothers, sister or parents, like you’d imagined. I flee the North Vietnam with my grandma and uncle. I took the place of my cousin – my uncle’s daughter. I took her identity.
How are you documenting the experiences of other Vietnamese boat people?
My interviews with other Vietnamese children help me to fill the gaps in my own memories like the missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The activities is to explores identity and belonging through collective childhood memories – a voyage of discovery through the eyes of Vietnamese Boat Refugee children, who, like myself, arrived in England 1970s/80s.
I will be interviewing Vietnamese children now adults with a set of questions to collate from a range of people to build up a broader picture of collective experiences that I will add to my own. I will use this to create artwork using Photoshop skills from 15 years film experience to composite images that expresses our collective experiences of displacement, upheaval, starting a new life in a forgiven land.
I wanted to share my story of hopes and dreams that had helped me to survive, become a stronger person and invite others to share theirs – knowing that you are not alone. I hope that my art will inspire and enrich people through my story and experiences of the unknown.
Between about 1975 and 1995 about 2 million Vietnamese left their country due to the increasingly repressive policies of the government following the creation of a united Republic of Vietnam. A million people were sent to re-education camps, and the communist government increasingly repressed the ethnic Chinese population of Vietnam who controlled much of the retail trade in the south of the country.
In late 1978 war broke out between Vietnam and Kampuchea (Cambodia) and China – these conflicts also produced a large number of refugees.
While Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister (1979 – 1990) immigration levels were much lower than they are today. The deep recession had reduced many of the economic pull factors for migration and the refugee producing crises of the 1990s, including the collapse of the Iron Curtain, were yet to happen. The British Nationality Act 1981 continued the restrictions to the rights of Commonwealth Citizens introduced by the Immigration Act 1971, and work permits became more difficult to get without specialist skills. During the 1980s racial tensions emerged which led to the riots of 1981 in Brixton, Liverpool and the Midlands.