Huong Ngo’s “Reap the Whirlwind” features two bodies of works concealed by darkness. Viewed askance, four black hanging screen prints reveal seductive, Ingres-like female figures. Touch the black pages of her artist’s books with your warm hand and their thermochromic inks divulge texts. Prolonged engagement uncovers the exhibition’s narrative: In works including print, artists’ books, film and photography, Ngo unfolds the story of revolutionary Vietnamese women in the early twentieth century, parallel with concurrent representations of Indochinese concubines in popular fiction written for and by a French imagination.
On the heels of her 2017 DePaul Art Museum exhibition “To Name It is To See It,” which focused on the life and narrative of the Vietnamese anti-colonial, Communist revolutionary Nguyen Thi Minh Khai (1910-1941), “Reap the Whirlwind” at Aspect/Ratio positions anti-colonial women against the backdrop of concurrent representation of women in Vietnamese popular culture. Central in the exhibition stands a sculptural case of pulp-fiction novels featuring Indochinese courtesans. Their pocket size mirrors the bricks also contained in the case, apparently meant to hide the books’ scandalous (dangerous) content.
Ngo’s research-driven practice asks the viewer to spend time, engage thoughtfully, and join her quest of discovery, digging and unearthing hidden stories. Beautifully rendered prints from French and Vietnamese archives are incised with the artist’s laser-cut annotations and notes. Floating each page onto a wooden framed surface, Ngo makes visible the stories of women whose revolutionary lives lay buried within a dusty archive.
Multiple angles reveal multiple meanings. Just as the artist spends days within archives to unearth material, she creates objects that elevate research to art. Huong Ngo rewards slow looking with discovery while highlighting how women’s histories often get buried and misrepresented. Behind the dominant male-driven historical narrative, a multitude of revolutionaries have worked and are working quietly behind a beautiful facade. (Anastasia Karpova Tinari)
Huong Ngo’s “Reap the Whirlwind” shows through October 20 at Aspect/Ratio Projects, 864 North Ashland.