chapter  9
12 Pages

Fostering Self- Understandings in Relation to Wider Contexts and Citizenry

Binh Danh is a contemporary photographer and teacher concerned with memori­ alizing memories (see http://binhdanh.com/projects.html). His exhibit, Viet Nam, Nebraska (2011-2012) held at the Sheldon Museum of Art,6 University of Nebraska­ Lincoln, United States, continues his lifelong exploration of memory. As a Vietnamese refugee he arrived in the United States in 1979 as a two­ year­old from a Malaysian camp. His family-a mother, father, and siblings-were “boat people” who fled Vietnam because of harsh conditions following what Americans know as the Vietnam War and Vietnamese term the American War. Danh relays how his parents did not talk about Vietnam, the war, or their journey to Califor­ nia as he grew up. It was through photographs that he began to access his family’s history. He finally gained some sense of his father’s scars, a constant memory for his father of fighting alongside the Americans in the war. Images of family life, cultural roots, and Buddhist spiritual beliefs and practices reconstructed Danh’s history. He increasingly associated what it meant to be alive as connected to his contemplations since childhood of all living things being composed of atoms, con­ tinually cycling into new forms. Time, decay, and regeneration are understood as being elemental to life and interrelated with living. Thus, Danh came to under­ stand human memory as intimately linked with the earth’s memory, and his art­ works convey this interest and document the ensuing paths of exploration. Danh (2011) explains that connections within and across our personal and collective memories surface embodied matters that he grapples with as his images convey the struggle of memory with remembering and forgetting. He understands memory constituting our very beings and sees his photography confronting and re­ membering these images of selves in the world (artist lecture, September 23, 2011, Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska­ Lincoln). Thus, memory is entangled with temporality, and as Bal (2002) points out, entails mediation (p. 182). She explains that “memory turns out to be multilay­ ered, overdetermined, disunified, and emphatically cultural,” soliciting “memory without foreclosing the past it acts upon” (p. 185). It is such a medi­ ating space, or what Gadamer (2000) terms a “clearing” (p. 257), that Danh’s images invite and come upon.