Spotlight on Protest: An-My Lê

This is the first in a series of spotlights on Season 4 artists published the week of their broadcast episode. Episode 2: Protest premieres this Sunday at 10pm on PBS (check local listings) and features
photographer/filmmaker An-My Lê.

An-My Lê, <i>Small Wars (sniper II)</i>, 1999-2002. Gelatin silver print,  26 1/2 x 38 inches.

An-My Lê was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1960. Lê fled Vietnam with her family as a teenager in 1975, the final year of the war, eventually settling in the United States as a political refugee. Lê received BAS and MS degrees in biology from Stanford University (1981, 1985) and an MFA from Yale University (1993). Her photographs and films examine the impact, consequences, and representation of war. Whether in color or black-and-white, her pictures frame a tension between the natural landscape and its violent transformation into battlefields. Projects include Viêt Nam (1994-98), in which Lê’s memories of a war-torn countryside are reconciled with the contemporary landscape; Small Wars (1999-2002), in which Lê photographed and participated in Vietnam War reenactments in South Carolina; and 29 Palms (2003-04) in which United States Marines preparing for deployment play-act scenarios in a virtual Middle East in the California desert. Suspended between the formal traditions of documentary and staged photography, Lê’s work explores the disjunction between wars as historical events and the ubiquitous representation of war in contemporary entertainment, politics, and collective consciousness. She has received many awards, including fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1997) and the New York Foundation for the Arts (1996). She has had major exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2006); Henry Art Gallery, Seattle (2006); ICP Triennial (2006); P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City (2002); and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1997). Lê lives and works in New York.

An-My Lê, <i>Untitled, Lao Bao</i>, 1998. Gelatin silver print. 24 x 30 inches.

Watch a clip from Lê’s Art:21 segment:

About her work, Lê says,

“The kind of work that I make is not the standard political work. It’s not agitprop. You would think, because I’ve seen so much devastation and lived through a war, that I should make something that’s outwardly antiwar. But I am not categorically against war. I was more interested in drawing people into my work to think about the issues that envelop war – representations of war, landscape and terrain in war…What [war] is meant to do is just horrible. But war can be beautiful. I think it’s the idea of the sublime moments that are horrific but, at the same time, beautiful – moments of communion with the landscape and nature. And it’s that beauty that I want to embrace in my work. I think that’s why the work seems ambiguous. And it’s meant to be.”

(taken from the companion book Art in the Twenty-First Century 4, p. 42).

An-My Lê, <i>29 Palms: Night Operations I</i>, 2003-04. Gelatin silver print.  26 1/2 x 38 inches.

View photos from Lê’s recent talk at the Brooklyn Museum here.

Read more about her work and watch additional clips on her Art:21 webpage here.

Have you experienced Lê’s work in person, or did you have an opportunity to view her segment in one of the hundreds of Art21 Access ’07 events that have been taking place all month? Share your thoughts on An-My Lê by leaving a comment below.