, Port Arthur, Texas


July 12, 2014

Museum of the Gulf Coast highlights ‘The Soul of Vietnam’

PORT ARTHUR — When most Americans think about Vietnam, they picture the war-torn landscape of the 1970s. Some still think of Vietnam as two separate entities, North and South, much like Korea. North and South do not get along, and that internal conflict echoed back to the United States after the armed forces were sent to intervene in the Vietnam War.

However, life in Vietnam has progressed significantly in the forty years since we brought our troops home. The nation is no longer two entities, but a unified power. International trade and labor are both boosting the national economy and rising the urban skylines. Many Vietnamese cities are indistinguishable from American ones such as Houston or Dallas.

Vietnam has modernized, but our representation of Vietnamese culture and Vietnamese life has not. That’s what Lawrence D’Attillio aims to highlight in his photography exhibit, “The Soul of Vietnam: A Portrait of the North,” on display at the Museum of the Gulf Coast.

“The Vietnam of today is a far different place than what American servicemen saw 40 years ago,” David Beard, museum director, said. “The whole exhibition is an interesting juxtaposition of how these images reflect the old and the new, and how Vietnam has transformed from what we remember it like during the Vietnam War.”

D’Attillio and his wife, Pam, have spent the past eight years living in Ha Noi, Vietnam. D’Attillio has been working as an artist in residence in Ha Noi, Vietnam for the last eight years. Beard said the photographs in the exhibit are the results of D’Attillio’s labors — and of falling in love with the Vietnamese culture.

“He would often spend hours trying to get a photograph — mainly by sitting there long enough that he became part of the environment and they forgot he was there,” Beard said. “He also had to ask the Vietnamese government for permission before he could take some of the photographs.

“Vietnam wants to be seen as a growing and modernizing country, but a lot of Larry’s pictures show the more traditional elements of an older culture. In order to photograph these images of an older society and an older way of doing things, he asked the Vietnamese government, ‘If 50 years from now, this is all going to be gone, how are you going to show people the progress that has been made?’ So throughout the exhibit, you’ll see that he has captured traditional fishing villages but also the vibrant metroplex areas.”

Beard said the photographs provide insights to the more traditional culture of Vietnam and to its sweeping industrial progress. But mainly, he said, the images make viewers think about their own perceptions of Vietnamese life.

“We have people living here who still have relatives back in Vietnam. During the late ‘70s, we saw a significant amount of southern Vietnamese moving up to northern Vietnam, and then finally emigrating to the United States,” he said. “Hopefully, this exhibit will engage the Vietnamese-American sector of the local culture and introduce our other cultural communities to the Vietnam of today. It’s so different from how we remember it.”

The Museum of the Gulf Coast is located at 700 Procter St. in Port Arthur. The exhibition is on display through Aug. 3.

For more information, call (409) 982-7000.


Twitter: crhenderson90

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