Lien Truong, I, Buffalo, 2017, acrylic, silk, fabric paint, antique gold-leaf obi thread, black salt, and smoke on linen, 96 x 72 in., Purchased with funds from the William R. Roberson Jr. and Frances M. Roberson Endowed Fund for North Carolina Art
The artist, Lien Truong, was born in 1973 in Saigon, Vietnam, and lives and works in Chapel Hill, where she is an assistant professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a foreign-born individual living in the U.S., Truong straddles two starkly different worlds and cultures, functioning in a perpetual state of diaspora. Much of her work focuses on the convergence of contemporary subjects with historical systems and narratives. Her art analyzes beliefs and traditions as they relate to popular culture, familial structures, and religious practices.
I, Buffalo is from a series called “Musings of an Origin,” in which Truong explores how the American narrative has been shaped by colonization, enslaved people, and immigrants.
I, Buffalo is from a series called “Musings of an Origin,” in which Truong explores how the American narrative has been shaped by colonization, enslaved people, and immigrants. She also invokes Michel Foucault’s concept of a heterotopia, in which one location brings together several (often disparate) spaces and narratives—spaces that have more layers of meaning than immediately meet the eye.
There are no figures in the piece, but painterly gestures that sweep across the surface in bright shades of blue, pink, and red. A motif of water and fluidity is picked up in the darker blue and gray, and also in the Japanese-style wave printed in the broken inverted triangle at the center. In the upper-left corner, the colors in a scene of mountains separated by a river flow from light blue into a vivid red drip down the canvas, mimicking the downward trajectory of many elements in the work. Large red and pink feathers appear to hang from the top of the painting, referring to the Native American cultures that originally inhabited this land and are still at the center of the discussion of colonialism and its legacy in the Americas.
I, Buffalo draws on motifs from the East (as both a concrete location and an abstract fiction), as well as the complex narratives that exist around the textile trade and Silk Road, and Truong’s entanglements twist and bend normative understandings of Asia and America and those historical narratives. Through these amalgamations I, Buffalo calls into question origin, nationality, borders, and the temporality of our transnational histories of colonialism, trade, and migration.
The mixing of mediums and transcultural imagery gives this work amazing dimension, and its various elements seem to leap off the wall at the viewer. Its movement, its physicality, and its meaning make I, Buffalo a standout work in the NCMA’s contemporary collection, and I hope that all our visitors give it the time and consideration it deserves.