The Rice University Art Gallery has commissioned Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Le to showcase his latest work, Crossing the Farther Shore, from April 10 to Aug. 28.

The Rice University Art Gallery has commissioned Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Le to showcase his latest work, Crossing the Farther Shore, from April 10 to Aug. 28. The installation examines the Vietnam War era through a combination of black and white photos taken in Vietnam pre-1975 and short, handwritten notes. Le discusses the personal meaning of his work as well as the significance of its title: 

1. Is this the first exhibition of this kind that you have done, or does this show accompany your previous work?

“It’s a new work, but it’s a continuation of a previous work I did around 1999-2000. I have been thinking about that piece over the years and how to expand it — make it more sculptural. It’s called ‘Mot Coi Di Ve,’ and it means spending one’s life trying to find one’s way home.”

2. Where did you find the photos?

“I started collecting these photos out of a kind of desire to find my own family photos. When my family escaped Vietnam in 1978, we had to leave everything behind. So, when I moved back to Vietnam in the mid ’90s, I found a second-hand shop that [sold] black and white photos. I started collecting the photos because they reminded me of something — my family, my childhood. They have become a kind of surrogate family.” 

3. Can you talk a little about the handwritten notes that will accompany the pictures?

“Some of the photographs come with existing notes. Most of the time they are dates, locations and names of the people in the photographs. And then there are photographs that have no written notes whatsoever, and we don’t know where they come from. So, what I did for this work was [add] narratives of Vietnamese overseas, as well as this epic poem, ‘The Tale of Kieu,’ which talks about a young lady who, through circumstances, had to sell herself in order to save her family. Through her troubles, she had to sell far away from home, but she always dreamed of coming home, and eventually she did. I felt that a lot of Vietnamese overseas, the older generation, identify with her story because it mirrors their own desire to come home.”

4. What is the significance of the title of the exhibit, Crossing the Farther Shore?

“The older generation, particularly my mom’s generation, migrated to America, lived in America, but their heart was still in Vietnam. Even though they are here, they are divided. They are neither here nor there. They are constantly crossing but they never arrive.”

The opening reception for Crossing the Farther Shore is Thursday, April 10 from 5-7 p.m. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.