Jerry Truong and Education Through Art

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Transformation is a key aspect of artist Jerry Truong’s work, one that certainly seems to apply to him as well. On Wednesday, Oct. 2, Truong hosted an artist’s lecture at the Boyden Gallery in Montgomery Hall. The D.C.-based artist’s visit is a part of an initiative by the college gallery to emphasize learning and growth through artistic experiences. Truong currently has an exhibit in the gallery called “Bien”. The piece is an hour of a four-hour  video Truong shot of himself writing the Vietnamese word ‘bien’, meaning ‘ocean’ or ‘transform’ on a piece of paper. The ocean, transformation, and the word ‘bien’ are all recurring themes in the artist’s work. In addition to his work as an artist, Truong is also a teacher at Montgomery College and a fellow at Hamiltonian Artists.

During his talk, Truong’s topics of discussion ranged from his time at UC Irvine, to his parents escape from Vietnam, to his mentor’s fascination with the clothes he wore. All his stories serve as the inspiration for his artwork. Change is a constant in Truong’s work, one he’s tried to convey since his time as a student. For a final project, he once created a single board made of resin. By the seventh day of the exhibition, it had melted into a puddle.

One of the most interesting topics he explores in his work is the life of his family. In photographs from 2003, Truong explored the beauty of his family’s day-to-day experiences. He says he was only vaguely aware throughout his life of the horrors his mother and father had experienced in escaping from war-torn Vietnam by boat in 1979. No one wanted to talk about it, and when it was brought up, the energy in the room would change.

This didn’t prevent him from picking up certain things. Truong became aware at some point that he had an uncle who drowned on the crossing-over, but he cannot remember how he knows. This unknown uncle has become something of a mystical figure for the artist, who has put his vision of his uncles into pieces like Lớp/Vỏ (Layer/Shell or Crust), a brick of dirt from which just barely emerges a pair of shoes and some clothing, giving the impression of someone buried. An equally evocative piece untitled, but known as ‘bien girl’, creates the haunting impression of Vietnamese women refugees who simply vanished in their attempt to cross. The posed mannequin lies in the middle of the floor between two striped canvases, with a red line going from its middle to its separated legs on a different part of the floor.

The show reflected both the intensity of a young person’s relationship with their heritage and served as an excellent educational tool. Boyden Gallery curator Cristin Cash says these artist talks and other programs are meant as part of an initiative to encourage students of all areas of interest to see the Boyden Gallery as a resource for their own interests and use.

The next artist visit to the gallery is the Beehive Design Collective, a group of activists and artists involved in collaborative murals. To learn more about what is happening in the Boyden Gallery, stop in the gallery itself, or check their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BoydenGallerySMCM

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