Trâm Anh Nguyễn: Hoa
In Vietnamese, “hoa” means flower. It also is the first name of my bà nội (paternal grandmother). Before developing her memory disorders, my bà nội, Tuyết Hoa, wrote an autobiographical book about her life and its events. The book (in translation from Vietnamese) is titled “Memories of Tuyết Hoa”, and subtitled “When My Country is Peaceful: Memoirs of a Saigon Female Student”. She now reads this book everyday in her home in Hanoi.
The Vietnam War was a crime against humanity caused by the American imperialist war machine, and it affects Vietnamese people to this day. This war has changed the history of Vietnam, as a country and a home forever. But the Vietnam I know today is totally different from the Vietnam my elders know. As the ever-growing Vietnamese youth are constantly creating new subcultures and communities, it’s crucial to not forget the bodies that brought us here, and the bodies that never got to grow old.
Describe how you envision the end result of your project. If it is a work in progress please indicate your planned completion date.
These photographs and footage were taken when I stayed with my grandparents for a month at their home in Hanoi during the summer of 2022, the first time I’ve been back to my home country in three years — I did everything to document every moment I can. I know that for now these are memories are ones I cannot recreate and can never have back. Even though my short film is completed, it wouldn’t mark an ending to my memory of her life. My bà nội, Tuyết Hoa, is a woman with many lives, even if she cannot remember them, I hope this project helps me and others remember her.
What inspired you to create this project? Include any relevant artists.
Currently, some artists and filmmakers such as Trịnh T. Minh Hà, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Chantal Akerman are major influences and inspirations for my filmmaking style in general but also on my approach to making any type of art. As they all work in the realm of film, these three directors also use installations as a medium to showcase their work and message through video-channel projections in an exhibition setting, which is something I also aspire to do moving forward with this project and beyond.
Describe any challenges you faced creating this project, and the solutions that helped you to overcome these problems.
Originally, I never specifically intended to make a short film about my bà nội when I visited and stayed with her in Vietnam. But as the last time I saw her before I left back to Canada, she was weaker and her head was shaved. In that moment, I felt as I had to prepare myself for grief. I wouldn’t and still don’t know if she would be here the next time I visit. I poured all these feelings onto a page of my journal at the time, then transformed those words into a lyrical letter and poem that I would end up reciting in the film. I’d say my biggest challenge faced with this project isn’t a technical or artistic one, but rather the nervousness and underlying fears of showing this personal vulnerability to the world.
What are you most proud of about this project?
I think having it finished and out in the world to see is what makes my pride for myself, maybe even the right word could be more of relief. I’d say I’m proud of being able to finalize a big project like this, especially one not meant for school or work. I’ve had people who watched the film tell me about how it reminded them of their own grandparents, and how they felt the same way as the feelings I was expressing. Some even shared that they have dealt with a recent loss and how grief still feels like something they don’t know how to navigate. I’m proud to say that’s what makes me feel most satisfied with this piece and I feel that satisfaction whenever people’s real experiences are reminders of that. Grief and loss are hard areas of conversation but we all know or will know it. To know mourning can be a painful and lonely experience but it is also a universal one.
Have you had any success getting your work out into the world? Do you have suggestions for other artists?
Ever since I released the project around October 2022, the film had great support, especially from family and friends both in Vietnam and Canada. The film got accepted to TIFF Next Wave’s Open Screen and Toronto Queer Film Festival, and now still in the process of applying to more film festivals and screenings. As I am writing this, it is February 12th, and an exhibition at Gallery 310 at the Image Arts building would have its first opening on March 1st. I never thought this piece would get as much love as it did so far, as it was terrifying to show such a personal and vulnerable piece, but it’s one that many of us may need. Hopefully showing these uncomfortable feelings helps build more intimate conversations, and have people be more open to paths of healing.
Trâm Anh Nguyễn: He/Him
Trâm Anh Nguyễn is a visual artist specializing in experimental and documentary filmmaking based in Vietnam and Toronto. As a Southeast Asian trans person, he wishes to continue in creating more projects that reflect on gender and cultural identity, and in portraying themes of vulnerability and memory into his work.