"Witness to War: Revisiting the Vietnam War in Contemporary Art" at San Francisco State University's International Center for the Arts begs certain questions: What does it mean to be a witness to war, and how does one revisit it through contemporary art? The exhibit revisits the conflict within a framework that reduces historical particulars to a nebulous anti-war statement, and limits its commentary in a way that lacks specific analysis.
The exhibition aims to "examine contemporary perceptions" of the American War in Vietnam by probing the role of media in the collective memory of the war..." But one wonders to what extent it is tempered by the preponderance of artists who are descendents and émigrés from a South Vietnamese population (including former military officers and political refugees to the U.S.) and what the exhibit would look like if it included artists who were sympathetic to North Vietnam.
The exhibition sidesteps analysis of causes of the war in favor of looking at how Western news and entertainment industries’ representations of it shaped perceptions and conditioned memories.
Thai Bui’s sculptures resemble crude bombs. Binh Danh’s photos, which appeared in Life magazine, pay homage to fallen American soldiers killed between May 28 and June 3, 1969.
Dinh Q. Lê uses traditional mat weaving techniques practiced by his aunt in collages that incorporate news images and stills from movies, including "The Deer Hunter."
Harrell Fletcher uses images from The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City in a slide show that reveals the immediate destruction of the war, and the lasting human and ecological devastation. The show’s major strength lies in how the works reveal that the impact of war is pervasive and personal.
Where: International Center for the Arts, Room 238, Fine Arts Building, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Ave.
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; closes March 15
Contact: (415) 338-6535 or www.sfsu.edu/~gallery