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One man’s trash is another man’s showcase of modern life

Found and recycled objects from throughout Brisbane take on a new power and explain a complex intersection of cultures and rivers under the hand of Museum of Brisbane’s new artist-in-residence Vanghoua Anthony Vue.

Feb 07, 2023, updated Feb 07, 2023
Museum of Brisbane Artist In Residence Vanghoua Anthony Vue (Image: Supplied)

Museum of Brisbane Artist In Residence Vanghoua Anthony Vue (Image: Supplied)

The vibrant creations showcase how the detritus of modern life are transformed by the Hmong-Australian artist’s intricate eye for detail, so much so that the original objects are often hard to define in his work.

“It’s interactive in the sense that they’ll see me do a lot of the work on site,” Vue said.

“At the moment, I’ve stopped making, because I want to leave a lot of that for my residency. I’ve made the backbone of what’s going on the walls, which are these panels, and I’m going to be building onto these panels in the next three or so months.”

“They’ll see a lot of my working process, the way I work, the mess I do get up to as well. It’s interactive in the sense that they’ll get a very kind of good insight into how I work with my sculptures.”

The exhibition is a feature event of the BrisAsia Festival celebration of Asian art, culture and cuisine across the river city.

By weaving everyday items and recycled materials into artworks, the Brisbane-based artist’s bold creations blend the styles of traditional Hmong textiles with life in Australia, and prompt us to think about the meaning of what we throw away.

“I’ve gone more towards buying actual products at thrift shops and also Dollars and Cents kind of those cheap shops,” he said.

“It’s kind of a wonderland full of things and colours and it was very much just cheap products cheaply made, but they were still good quality. They still went through a process of design and I have a strong appreciation for that.

“Even though they’re cheap products, there’s so much work that’s gone behind making the work, the objects or the tools or the household items that we use. We discard it quite easily.”

Vue finds his artistic process riffs off the do-it-yourself aesthetic that was instilled in him by his family upbringing and the broader Hmong community, whose experiences of migration required them to ‘ua li ua tau’ or ‘make do’ with what was at hand.

““My family migrated here. I was born in Australia, but coming from a really big family of eight kids, my parents not having too much skills that could land them a job with good income, we kind of had to make do with what we had,” he said.

“Definitely my Dad, he was a DIY kind of person, so he was always fixing things. Things were never really, I guess, worth throwing away until you used them, pretty much exhausted them to the point where you can’t repair it anymore.

“If you can still repair it, we’re going to make the use of it. So that kind of ethos, flows story in my work as well. I make the most of the materials I have access to.”

Alongside his creations, Vue will also feature videos he’s created highlighting the migrant experience of the Hmong community, through three rivers of personal significance: the Mekong River, which his parents crossed to escape to Thailand; the Logan River, which winds past his home today, and the Brisbane River, which snakes through his place of work.

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“The things in the video are pretty much videos of places, realistic videos, and then the artworks on the walls are more colours and symbols and shapes,” he said.

“The whole entire project itself, the exhibition is very much about home.

“So for those videos, those Three Rivers, the central video is footage I took over in Thailand of the Mekong River. That was a point where Hmong refugees crossed over to Thailand to escape persecution.

“Then the river on the left is the Logan River, which is where I’m located, where my home is. So I drive past that particular area every day when I go to work or go to do groceries and whatnot, it’s very close to my home.

“The one on the right is Brisbane River, that’s actually over in West End. So that video is of this spot where I visited quite often in my early years here in Brisbane.

“So connecting these three different rivers that are significant to me personally but then also the Hmong community. The Hmong community in Brisbane in Logan is one of the biggest in Australia.”

He says his art pays tribute to how the Hmong culture adapted to these different rivers and how they became part of the fabric of their life.

“Adapting to place, making homes in different locations,” he said.

“Even for my parents, I’ve always grown up with my parents yearning to go back home, to go back to the Mekong River, to go back to Laos. But at the same time, they’re adapting to place as well, even though they’re still got that yearning. They’ve made this place home as much as their previous one.”

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