Announcing the second commissioned artist for STAGES: photography through the pandemic

Artist profile: Phuong Ngo

Art Announcement from Australia. Published by Monash Gallery of Art on Thursday 30 July 2020.

Announcing the second commissioned artist for  STAGES: photography through the pandemic image Announcing the second commissioned artist for  STAGES: photography through the pandemic image Announcing the second commissioned artist for  STAGES: photography through the pandemic image

  • Nominated by:
  • Shane Hulbert
  • Associate Dean, Photography, RMIT University School of Art

Artist bio:

Phuong Ngo is a Vietnamese-Australian artist living and working in Melbourne, Australia. His practice is concerned with the interpretation of history, memory and place, and how it impacts individual and collected identity of the Vietnamese diaspora.

Through archival process rooted in a conceptual practice, he seeks to find linkages between culture, politics and oral histories and historic events, which in turn dictates the materiality of his artistic output. Ngo’s work has been widely exhibited in Australia, most notably at the National Gallery of Victoria, Museum of Contemporary Art, Centre for Contemporary Photography and Bendigo Art Gallery.

Ngo’s work often explores the complexities of conflict and war, displacement, inherited trauma, migration, and colonial legacies through a range of mediums including studio photography, vernacular photography, video, installation, sculpture, ceramics, performance and more recently painting. As an artist securely embedded in the relationship between concept and material, Ngo often refers to artworks as residue of the ‘real work’.

Likewise, Ngo’s collaborative practice with Hwafern Quach, Slippage, examines the cycles of history in conjunction with current geopolitical and economic issues through the lens of vernacular cultures, artefacts and language.Taking their Vietnamese and Chinese ancestry as a starting point and foregrounding their work in the personal, Slippage utilises ceramics as a medium to further critique issues closely linked to historic and contemporary forms of imperialism and global politics.

Artist’s proposal:

We live in an ever-failing state of existence, the privatisation of racism (neo-liberalism) and the ever-growing divide between who is or isn’t deserving has always been a problem on a local, national and international scale. COVID-19 has only exposed this for what it is.

During isolation, I have been active in a number of socially engaged activities, in particular those supporting communities that have been left out of the federal government’s social security net, and conscious of how these failed systems expose inequality.

Early responses by the Australian Government to COVID-19 clearly highlight the racialised and classist nature of our society, most recently evident through the treatment of returning nationals from China compared to those returning from Western countries. This has been further highlighted by the exclusion of international students, undocumented migrants, indigenous communities and migrant workers from the Federal Government’s financial aid initiatives, creating an imbalance in how communities are able to respond to the pandemic crisis.

This proposal seeks to capture moments that expose the depth of inequality towards these communities and to provide insights into under-represented parts of our society and make visible the activism currently taking place to support those left out.

Working with partnering community groups, such as the IRL Shop and the Anti-Colonial Asian Alliance, the project will share funding amongst those in need, and the spending documented to provide insights into the human needs of those who are at risk of being dehumanised. Large photographic prints, including invoices and receipts, will clearly show the spending to demystify otherness and highlight how need is universal.

- Phuong Ngo

About the commission

Responding to the unprecedented social, environmental and economic impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic on Australian artists and society at large, Monash Gallery of Art has commissioned five artist projects.

Photographers image the spaces between us, whether physical or psychological, be it through portraits or landscapes, within the domestic sphere or the public realm. The significance of work and leisure routines and the liberty of everyday behaviours we take for granted is never better understood than when the right and ability to do them is taken away.

STAGES: photography through the pandemic will see Jane Burton, Cherine Fahd, Phuong Ngo, Van Sowerine + Isobel Knowles, and James Tylor respond creatively to the unprecedented social, environmental and economic impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The resulting bodies of work will feature in online and gallery-based exhibition outcomes as part of MGA’s Luminaries exhibition series in 2021. A selection of the commissioned works will also join the MGA Collection to contribute to the cultural record of this time.