Visual Arts

Julia Bottoms-Douglas and Van Tran Nguyen at BAS

by / May. 17, 2017 12am EST

A score or so of excellent portrait paintings by Julia Bottoms-Douglas and a mixed media installation on the aftermath experience of the Vietnam War by ethnic Vietnamese young American artist Van Tran Nguyen are currently on view at Buffalo Art Studios. 

The Nguyen installation centerpiece includes a video, a constructed wood wall, plumbing hardware, and water. On one gallery wall, what looks at first like a mirror-image movie on two screens that turns out to be an actual mirror image of the artist in a kind of personal public service project, washing down the Maya Lin Vietnam Veterans memorial wall in Washington, DC, with wash rag and water—the camera looking down the length of the wall, so that the wall wash and other activities—people milling around, looking for names of loved ones, reaching up and touching names, moments of quiet recollection and meditation—are double-imaged in the shiny black wall marble. And on each side of the wall wash and other activities—in the video still—buckets of water into which from time to time the artist dips and re-wets the wash rag. While below and in front of the video, a constructed wood wall with projecting faucet spigots, and water dripping from the spigots that we are informed in a flyer accompanying the exhibit is the same water—somehow collected and saved—that was used to wash down the Maya Lin wall. 

Van Tran Nguyen

While elsewhere around the gallery, some shallow aquaria water pools with floating mixtures of fruits and vegetables, whole and in chunk bits. Of ambivalent effect, it could be said. A little like the punch bowl at a wedding or graduation. A little like the extension segment of Scajaquada Creek under Delaware Avenue into the park. With all the Cheektowaga garbage in it. The flyer suggests reference to the Mekong Delta—the environmental damage done to those waters—and to Vietnamese waters and lands in general—owing to the war. (But we do much the same sort of damage to our own natural environment, war or no war.)

Other videos are also done in doubles. One of the artist—it looks like—and a woman who might be her mother, facing off silently. With what might be a tear dropping. Two ultimately incommunicable experiences of one and the same traumatic event. And one of North Vietnamese war posters onto which the artist superimposes her own image. How is the artist like and unlike the strong revolutionary women on the posters? 

And what to make of it all in all? Not a particularly well-articulated response on the war and aftermath, but not meant to be articulate, it would seem. More about the difficulty or impossibility of articulation in this case. (As in cases in general regarding personal impacts of traumatic events). Art about ever unfinished business. 

The Bottoms-Douglass works are beautiful paintings of beautiful people. All blacks, and all young. That is, young adult, except for one depiction of a baby. The flyer notes the artist’s purpose—part of her purpose anyway—in making the work “as a response to the media’s repetition of racially biased imagery…” 

Julia Bottoms-Douglas

The rest of that sentence in the flyer is “in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case.” But the bias in the media and elsewhere hardly began with the Trayvon Martin case. Nor is the bias in the media—excepting the racist right media—from Fox to Breitbart—anything like the worst of it. You look at these pictures and think, these beautiful people—decent, gracious, benevolent—for we have no reason to think otherwise, but from the open and honest, straightforward look of these subjects, every reason to think so—these are some of the principal objects of the hate and fear of the people who elected the clown cretin president primarily out of motives of hate and fear—not for economic reasons—that theory doesn’t bear out—that the media prefer to talk about rather than talk about the hate and fear—which are so difficult to talk about—more difficult than economics even—not so much because the media are biased but because they are so often lazy and so often cowardly. 

The two artists exhibit continues through June 2.

 Julia Douglas, Tinted: A Visual Statement on Color, Identity, and Representation
 + Van Tran Nguyen, ​Strange Agency 
 Buffalo Arts Studio, Tri Main Building, 5th Floor, 2495 Main St, Buffalo 
 716-833-4450 /