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Department Of Design

Expectations vs Experiences: Anh-Thuy Nguyen Gives Lecture on the Importance of Belonging in Design

Vietnamese American Artist Anh-Thuy Nguyen Discusses Her Artwork and Experiences in Design

Vietnamese-American artist Anh-Thuy Nguyen gave a recent lecture for BYU Department of Design's Belonging in Design Lecture Series. Nguyen explores her cultural identity and personal history as a female immigrant through photography, video, installation and performance art. During the lecture, she took the audience through her 2011–21 portfolio, explaining to the students how her experiences informed her artwork and how her artwork transformed her experiences.

After the lecture, Nguyen held a workshop for photo- and lens-based design students. She demonstrated how to use food in photograms (cameraless images), a technique she has utilized in some of her work.

Nguyen first came to the United States on a visitor's visa to help support her sister. Though circumstances prevented her from going home to Vietnam, her family encouraged her to stay in the United States and create a life for herself here. She received her BFA in photography from the University of Arizona; her MFA in photography/video from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX; and later, a BA in economic geography from the University of Social Sciences & Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Nguyen’s experiences as an immigrant woman inform her artwork. Describing one of her pieces of art, Nguyen said, “It’s almost like a love letter to my home and culture; [My artwork is] treated as a cultural identity: how my culture expects me to be and the kind of woman I am. [My art expresses] these expectations that my family members have of me as a daughter and as a Vietnamese woman. That was a good anchor point for my exploration for the last 10 years.”

Whenever Nguyen has a new installation or project, she tries to both pull from her past and acknowledge her present. Using one piece of her art as an example, she said, “When I did the installation of this work, I tried to find a way to renew the old work but also reflect my stage of being and again, that identity I had to kind of embrace and figure out.”

After she completed school, Nguyen got her Permanent Resident Card and began working in the US. She then had to grapple with both her Vietnamese identity and her American identity. She allowed this dichotomy, as well as others she experienced, to manifest in her art.

Nguyen advised students to explore other genres of design to build their skillset. In graduate school, she did not focus solely on photography because she was “busy learning all the tools that could help build [her] up, fulfill [her] and help [her] navigate the academic forum.” She said, “It’s also satisfying to me as an artist to prove to myself that I am allowed to do the things that make sense to me.”

Photography student Linda Hsiung attended the lecture and it resonated with her as an Asian American woman in the field of design. She said, “It is refreshing to have diverse visitors from outside of our community who can bring in a new perspective. As an Asian American woman of color myself, this was the first time I had met another Asian American photographer during my time here at BYU. I connected a lot with the cultural struggles that Anh-Thuy shared in her work.”

Hsiung believes there is hope for increased diversity and belonging within the design industry. She said, “It is amazing to see that more exposure is being given to female and diverse artists. Belonging is important because we all deserve to feel like our work can take up space and there is room for diverse voices.”