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New Memories of an old War by Binh Danh

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Binh Danh uses the most arduous artistic technique. The master combines the history of war, history of life circle and history of nature creating his masterpieces. Binh Danh has Vietnamese – American origin and becomes the artist of national importance for Vietnam. Being young student, he discovered photography as the particular branch of art. His research brought him to the great innovation that later helped him earn high renown and glory. The main point of his notable achievement is usage of an organic matter and sunlight to create extraordinary photographic images that memorialize victims of the Khmer Rouge. Danh is not a photograph in the notable sense. His prints tell the story; they reply to the history (KQED Arts 2006).

His arts impersonate the people at the pictures and make the history alive. His art has great significance not only for Vietnamese community, but it has a huge sense for all living beings. The artist’s works come from his own unanswered questions about terrible historical event that happened to his native country from 1975 to 1979. Danh utilizes organic materials and digital technologies to set up his own unrepeatable creations. The process of “chlorophyll prints”, as the author calls it, takes from few days to few weeks to achieve desirable results. (Lum 2003). Undoubtedly, the results are worth of attempts the artist does. The creations of Binh Danh do not make insensitive people observing them. His talent is the gift send by higher powers for people to remind sorrows and pains of actions that we did.

I tend to think that Binh Danh is not only the artist, he is a creator of a new tendency in the art. His personality and his works personify the bereavements and torments of Vietnamese nation. This statement might be proved absolutely by his own words: “For me it becomes almost a religion, it's almost my own religious practice when I make my own artwork, because I am coming up with my own concept of what is life, what is death, what is consciousness and what is history” (Binh Danh).

The Creation process

The artist deals with natural materials, such as leaves and grass and other foliage. One day he gathered leaves in his mother’s garden. Then, he took a negative image transfer and put it over a leave, making a sandwich construction between the two sheets of glass. This arrangement is laid in the sun for some period (usually it takes from few days to few weeks) until the ghostly visage appears. If the result is approved, Danh fixes the image in resin (Meltzer 2012). This process allows us to contemplate images that underline perfectly the main point off Danh’s art. Considering masters words, it is impossible to disagree that this branch of photography mirrors the continuous circle of nature and life. (KQED Arts 2006)

Print sources and Wikipedia note that Binh Danh invented the chlorophyll prints. Actually, it is not correct statement. The effect of sunlight on organic material is known already for a long time and is used by artists to create the shadow imagines. However, Danh has made a step forehand using this approach to evoke a responds in our hearts as for pain and sorrow of Vietnam’s people.

The context of Binh Danh’s art

The grown images into the leaves allow the artist to express main point of his creations. It is imperative to note that the context of his work underlines a catastrophic history in the South Pacific and its reflection on peoples’ and natures’ being. His art brings up and illustrates memories about life in Vietnam. Through imagination he reanimates the memories, which landscapes and nature conjure up. He says that the nature is the final place where the memory lies. (McCauley 2012) Actually, Dann utilizes incomparable matters to create an innovation. Meanwhile, the foliages engrave a green (alive) nature; he depicts pictures of death on them. I accept his art as the equilibration process. He takes living leaves, combines them with the pictures of expired, fagged out people and lets those leaves ‘die’, giving the new life, new memory and new honor for depicted personalities. This approach enables me to understand the value of life and its misery in front of the war’s face. As those people died giving a hope and belief for others, these leaves became dispirit bringing the new memory of the old war. Dahn evokes existence of the effervescent nature while revolves the death as the logical part of nature.

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For me, his images are symbols of memory. Looking at the pictures, I am filled with inexpressible pain, sympathy, and regret for lost lives.

Donh’s art reveals collective memory of war, especially in Vietnam and Cambodia. Being a 2-year-old child in 1979, Binh Danh with his family immigrated to the USA, California. (Bihn Dahn interviewing 2006)He was too young to remember or understand sorrows and losses of Vietnam War. However, when he returned his native country first time in 1999, he starts visiting it on a regular basis. The memories that appeared in his head were not his own, it was a number of social memories. As the matter of fact, Dahn didn’t participate in that war, but all that pain was hidden in shadows of his personality before he spread it in his art. Binh Danh is the artist of national and international value. The consequences of Vietnam War relate not only Vietnamese but American people as well. This way, Binh’s creatures make people think, feel and remember.

A war with its violence and deathly implications is a greatest dismay for any nation. However, Vietnamese-American conflicts make people silent. Inspired by Danh’s work, I asked my neighbor about his family’s experience and memories about that event. My neighbor’s name is Lai Chau, she is 22 years old. Actually, she does not know about the war from her own experience, but her parents do. Like Danh family, they moved to the USA in 1980s. Speaking about Danh’s art and its matters, she told me that her parents never talk about life in Vietnam. They even never mention about the events they become witnesses of. She said: ‘People are too proud to understand their mistakes. Americans never speak about it, because of their fiasco. Vietnamese avoid talking about it because of keeping silent to revere the memory of the fallen’. In light of this, it is possible to say that Danh’s art observes either cultural or multicultural issues of Vietnam War. He is working with existing archives of images giving them a new life. The prints he does investigate national heritage and pick collective memories of the war (Zavos 2011). By his art, Binh Danh expresses the main issue, which is relevant to his community. It is the best way to express the hidden stories of the personalities in the landscape and nature. His works loudly appeal for us to remember. He says that the souls of that people are near. The fallen are alive. They live in nature; their faces are looking at us and ask honorably to remember those days, those pains, and that War.

A peace of exhibition ‘Ancestral Altars’

It is the bright representation of the main theme of these series of arts. The Vietnam War runs through all Danh’s works. However, later he gets new ideas and themes for his creations. All to all, his native country and the terrible events that took place there inspired him to create the new photosynthesis art. 

Observing the picture, it is seen that its colors and combination of images make shocking impact. This shock has negative nature. Actually, the first thing I think about looking at this picture is death. However, Binh combined all elements to show recipient that they are alive. It is known that butterfly has its own symbol that means departed souls. People tend to think that fallen members of their family or close friend transform in other living beings. It depends on religion or personal points of view. However, the combination presented at the picture makes me think that artist had the idea to describe all personal feelings. Their faces seem to talk to us. We can see the solder depicted on the picture. I found him to be a symbol of duty, forced violence and war. His young age and innocent eyes make me sure about fear he feels when he takes the weapon in his hands. The young woman and man on the picture are civilians. Their faces express anger, resistance, interior firmness and desire to live., Danh has set together images of man and woman, as if they are a couple. So, they might depict romantic feelings. They are situated in the low line, under the solider, it might describe priority of military and force over the society.

All pictures, Danh uses for his exhibitions he took from personal albums, archives or other collections. He does not create that pictures, he gave them the second life.

Conclusion

Binh Dahn is a great master of nowadays. His art is not commercial; he does his best to open people’s minds and hearts and make them think about life, dearth, and its place in the nature. Everything go pass, everything ends. As well as the nature circle changes during the year, the humans’ lives have similar changes. There are few weighty themes that are interwoven in Danh’s creative work. The themes touch violence, cruelty, war, nature, life, death and immortally. 

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