Where The Sea Remembers

June 21 - September 14, 2019

Public Opening Reception: Sat. June 22, 2019, 6-8pm

The Mistake Room is very pleased to present Where the Sea Remembers, a group exhibition conceived as an unfinished dispatch of contemporary art practices from Vietnam and its Diaspora. The exhibition is the result of a series of formal and informal conversations with artists and colleagues living and working in Vietnam and around the globe, and aims to provide critical insights into a recent moment with transformative implications for Vietnamese artists as well as the region’s cultural landscape.

The exhibition takes the year 2007 as a point of departure—marking Vietnam’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and a peak in the country’s Đổi Mới reforms that began in 1986 with the goal of creating a socialist-oriented market economy. Along with easing restrictions on foreign investments, the privatization of state-owned enterprises, and the arrival of multinational corporate conglomerates, Vietnam also softened its borders—allowing for expanded tourism, professional exchanges and broadened travel opportunities for Vietnamese citizens. This facilitated movement also gave way to returnees—foreign-raised Vietnamese refugees who returned to settle in their homeland. Among them were artists who alongside local peers helped found new independent spaces while cultivating emerging talent and new models for the production and presentation of contemporary art. With a host of new industries burgeoning in the country, a reinvigorated institutional circuit, and more access to a global professional network, conceptual art practices expanded—paving the way for a new generation of practitioners invested in pushing the boundaries of painting and sculpture and also video, installation, and performance.

Where The Sea Remembers offers a glimpse into this recent past, acknowledging the difficulties that accompany it, and highlighting several tendencies of the moment. Amongst these are a desire to question and re-imagine officially sanctioned History and to challenge paradigms that site the Vietnam’s creative production solely within the context of the US-Vietnam war. 

Organized into three overlapping thematic sections, the show will explore how these artists create new ideas about nationalism and cultural heritage. Through the assembling of new mythologies that exhume colonial legacies; the mobilization of performance and body-based practices to construct new subjectivities, and the use of memory and research to propose possible futures for themselves and the country, the artists in the exhibition forge a textured portrait of Vietnam that will hopefully inspire future research and engagement.    

This exhibition is part of The Mistake Room’s 2019-2020 curatorial cycle, titled Histories of a Vanishing Present, which seeks to elaborate new vocabularies to grapple with identity politics through the lives and works of a generation of artists who’ve inherited pasts that don’t directly belong to them. In Where the Sea Remembers, the past is not a moment, but a place—Vietnam stands in for the contested relationship between memory and experience. The works that are brought together on the occasion of this show are fluid interjections into this dance between what we remember and what we live. In their own way each creates a space of remembrance where not only the economic but also the narrative foundations of nationhood are wide-open. 

In addition to the exhibition, a website for the show will be launched in May. The website will feature select video interviews with artists in the exhibition and short film features on Vietnam’s cultural scene, as well as functioning as a digital publication with newly commissioned writings by scholars, curators, artists and other creative makers from Vietnam and from across the world. 

Programming for the exhibition will include a film and performance convening slated for June 29-30, 2019 and a one-day symposium on Vietnam’s artistic scene slated for July 20th, 2019.

The exhibition is organized by The Mistake Room and Anna Borisova, and curated by César García-Alvarez, TMR Executive & Artistic Director,  Nicolas Orozco-Valdivia, TMR Associate Curator, and Kris Kuramitsu, TMR Deputy Director & Head of Program.

Where The Sea Remembers is made possible with a major gift from Stephen O. Lesser. Additional support for this exhibition is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

The Mistake Room’s programs are made possible with the generous support of its Board of Directors, Big Mistake Patron Group, International Council, and Contemporary Council.

Special thanks to Quynh Pham, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, and Christopher Myers.


Histories of a Vanishing Present (2019-2020) explores how a generation of artists born at the cusp of the global turn inherit pasts that don’t directly belong to them. Through the lens of postmemory, this cycle tackles a new relationship with identity politics forged by a millennial generation of artists for whom ideas of nationalism, cultural heritage, and historical trauma are radically different than for their predecessors. Why do military dictatorships in Latin America, the legacies of the Cold War, the activist histories of the LGBTQ and Civil Rights movements, or independence movements in Africa shape conversations about the work of a global generation of emerging artists whose sole relationship to these moments is the place of their birth, the color of their skin, their sexual orientations, or the familial histories they contend with? At a time when ideas of identity are being revisited in charged and polarizing ways, how can we rethink subjecthood not as a predefined category but as a tense and ongoing process of becoming? This cycle considers identity as situational—as a negotiation between the stories of those who came before and the responsibilities of those who are expected to inherit them.