(Millian) Pham Lien Gang, MFA, BFA
Assistant Professor of Art and Art History
The frustration of being partially understood was most prevalent when I conveyed complex ideas in a mishmash of Vietnamese and English to my parents. Our half-baked conversations usually devolved into one-sided views reinforced by traditional gender roles and outdated notions of filial piety. My parents—like many immigrant parents—hoped their children would thrive in the American landscape, but without losing the familiar roles and values of their generation. I learned that convincing my parents to change their perspective would have required more than a mastery of multiple languages and social codes. A lack of time and cultural resources drove me to seek out visual arts not only as a language to fill the voids in my verbal expression but also as a solace for not being seen and understood.
Straddling multiple cultural codes is the norm that many BIPOC* experience every day. To be successful is to constantly code switch to the appropriate language for the situation, creating a hybrid experience that is not always fruitful. This code switching is how I approach art making. Each work experiments with the aesthetic codes and conceptual framework of multiple cultures, art mediums, and languages. I test out new ways to convey an idea through a pluralism of perspective in the code switching of an artwork.
In my current research, compositions switch from negative space and positive figures through embroidered text, painted and printed imagery, and objects. Images and figures are placed behind drawn words that allude to class warfare and Otherness—issues that affected my ability to communicate with my parents and many people around me. I’m interested in highly abstracting these words to the point of near illegibility, hiding phrases and presenting them as ambiguous visual puzzles. Since the answer to each puzzle is provided in the title of each piece, the works aim to reorient the viewer toward issues beyond mere appreciation of surface elements. It is an opportunity to navigate toward deeper dimensions through the mode and code switching of visual and verbal perception.
* women, other minority, underrepresented folx, religious groups, and subcultures also experience daily instances of code switching