Space Force Civilian: The Duke
This painting is a portrait of the Duke, known as the father of surfing. He is credited for popularizing the ancient Hawaiian sport which is now practiced around the world.
This portrait is part of a series of paintings by the artist, each depicting one of the four people she would send into space on a civilian mission. These portraits are part of Nguyen’s exploration of modern-day space travel. They are also influenced by her recent research into Forest City—a man-made, tropical, plant-covered, tax-free Malaysian island located in the Singapore Strait between Malaysia and Singapore. When Nguyen visited the island in 2019, a salesperson lauded the sustainable city as a wonderful and luxurious place to raise kids, receive great medicare care and retire as there was “no climate change” in this utopia. After the trip, Nguyen began to imagine Forest City as an aspirational and utopian nation with a space force.
Nguyen created a national flag for the island for these paintings. Throughout the four portraits, viewers will see a flag spread across the composition. The flag features twelve alternating green and blue horizontal stripes which represent unchanging land and water over the twelve hours of a day. In the center of the flag is a big white circle, which represents a perfect sun—a source of light and truth. Nguyen uses this flag by placing it across a subject or weaving it through foliage, where the various symbols—representing sun, water and land—can move and suggest new meaning. These four portraits suggest that while the flag aspires for human perfection, humans and culture constantly agitate this pursuit. As the flag moves around, viewers witness a distortion of the circular sun—while the stripes that depict unmoving land and water are in constant motion.
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.