Daily Life in Malacca
This painting depicts a fantastical water scene, reframing a story from Western mythology in a tropical locale. The artist's work frequently explores lesser-known histories and their intersection with geopolitics through visually captivating narratives. This composition depicts figures that take on attributes from stories written by the ancient poet Homer, whose work is considered the foundation of Western literature. The artist transforms the story by altering key elements, such as transforming the figures into women and adding details that evoke the tropics, specifically the Pacific Rim—Malacca is a state in Malaysia.
About this work, curator Alison Karasyk says: "Nguyen’s paintings take Book 9 of [Homer's] The Odyssey, and the figure of the Cyclops, as a starting point. Exploring this text through a colonial reading, the artist reimagines the land of the Cyclops as the tropics of the global south, focusing on geopolitical histories of the Pacific Rim in particular. Within her layered compositions, Nguyen expands this fictional narrative, transforming the Cyclops into a feminine figure and replacing abundances of sheep with bananas–lush plants that grow plentifully but have a mind of their own. In this context, the harmless fruit is invigorated with potent agency–[simultaneously] functioning as a weapon, an object that forces fellatio and a nutritional source–denoting protection, violence, power and sustenance all at once. The paintings are also deeply concerned with the condition of divided identity and explore...the infamous trick [in The Odyssey] where Odysseus tells Polyphemus that his name is “nobody.” Here, Nguyen uses the slight as a way to demonstrate erasure of language, mythology, and culture in locales of the Pacific Rim. References to US military presence and missionary projects are also referenced within Nguyen’s evocative world."
On this subject, Nguyen says: “[F]or the tropical person, or, the colonial and now post-colonial subject, the state of double consciousness can be the state of both recognizing your oppressor, resisting him, and yet [also succumbing] to his system and even [indulging] in some of the splendor.”
② Represented by:
Tammy Nguyen is a multimedia artist whose work encompasses painting, drawing, printmaking and book making. The artist’s work explores the intersection of geopolitical realities with fiction, addressing lesser-known histories through a blend of myth and visual narrative. Nguyen is also the founder of Passenger Pigeon Press, an independent press that joins the work of scientists, journalists, creative writers and artists to create politically nuanced and cross-disciplinary projects.