Voices from Vietnam

I headed out Monday morning with my son Christopher to explore a recently opened exhibit presented by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Christopher has a great eye for detail and always spots elements in artwork I might overlook.

SMoCA’s young@art Gallery is actually housed inside the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, one of my favorite haunts for mother/daughter dance outings and other fare from film screenings and opera broadcasts to performances by Broadway greats.

The current exhibit, titled “Speak Peace” is simpler, yet more powerful, than most. It consists of a level line of children’s paintings that wraps around the gallery’s walls.

Works from the Speak Peace exhibit in Scottsdale

Each work was created during the past ten years by a child or teen in Vietnam as part of an international collaboration, and each is exhibited along with an original poem written by an American child, veteran or established poet.

As we explored the exhibit, we noted that several images appear over and over again in various works — flowers, the sun, animals and doves. Also fire, desolation and bombs falling from the sky.

One particularly moving image features children from Iraq and America looking at a globe. Across one continent there’s a bandage. Paintings address the themes of peace and war, and you can explore them in the young@art Gallery through Nov. 9.

Heal the World for Peace by Phan Nguyen Bao Tran, age 14

While there, we stopped to chat with another woman enjoying the exhibit. Turns out she’s an artist and author named Ellen Palestrant who hails from South Africa but has lived in Scottsdale for 24 years.

Palestrant’s works are currently exhibited at Gallery Andrea on E. Main St. in Old Town Scottsdale. The gallery is owned by Andrea de Kerpely-Zak, a Hungarian-born artist whose impressionist-style flowers are so renowned that Pope John Paul II commissioned two works.

When I asked Palestrant why she’d decided to view this particular exhibit, she mentioned spending time in Vietnam — and shared her delight that Vietnamese art is reflecting a growing feeling of freedom. It’s more colorful now than in the past, she says, and combines influences from both East and West.

Peaceful Country by Huynh Vu Thuy Duong, age 15

I also asked her thoughts about the state of arts and culture in Arizona. Palestrant praised what she calls “lots of experimentation and seredipity.” Perhaps because of all the bright sunshine, she says, “there’s a certain freedom here that you don’t get elsewhere.”

Palestrant’s grandaughter, just 4 years old, was also enjoying the exhibit — stopping at each work to really take it in. Seems she’s already drawing up a storm, to Palestrant’s delight.

“Art is your companion for life,” reflects Palestrant. She notes art’s power for steering youth through their sometimes turbulent teens, and says that exposing young children to art by other children sends a powerful message: You can do it too.

Together Protect Peace by Ta Thank Khue, age 15

“Children need to create and do things,” says Palestrant, “instead of always buying things.”

— Lynn

Note: To explore the work of Scottsdale artists, attend a Scottsdale Artwalk. They’re held each Thursday from 7-9pm. Click here for details.

Coming up: Fun with photos — from New York Comic Con

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One response to “Voices from Vietnam

  1. Lynn — Wonderful to read your response to the powerful exhibit. Last month in Tucson, The Hopi Foundation’s Owl & Panther project responded to the images. If you’ve got a few minutes — here’s a link to an Arizona Illustrated story about it: http://ondemand.azpm.org/videoshorts/watch/2011/9/22/1830-war-survivors-speaking-peace/

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