Nguyễn Việt Cường

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Formula and Vaccine

Acrylic on cardboard

30 x 30 cm

This piece is an image of a batch of COVID-19 vaccines donated to Vietnam by the United States. I drew this image on a cardboard box of an American milk brand produced exclusively for the Vietnamese market. I saw the similarities between the two countries and combined two images to depict the two stories below. I hope that the government can prioritize the best vaccines for those on the front lines to battle the pandemic.

The Story of Foremost Milk

This story was told to me by a Saigon native in 1973 while she was in elementary school. During the students’ break time, students were given a loaf of bread and a glass of Foremost milk from the U.S. If they did not drink it, the teachers would discipline them. She suffered from lactose intolerance, so she could not drink it, so she asked her mother to write her a permission letter not to drink the milk. Now, my children also have a milk program at their school, with me paying 50% of the total amount. To get free milk, children must have a certificate that qualifies them as a need-based household. However, I believe in equality and a lack of distinction between social classes in the school system.

The Story of the Vaccines

According to a conversation with a private doctor, the severity of the pandemic has strained and overworked the public health workers. Health industry leaders are calling all health workers to participate in the fight against the pandemic. Private doctors are also called. However, they are not protected, so they are assigned to work outside of their field of expertise. In Saigon, most health workers in the private sector are only given one vaccine shot, and many still do not have access to any shots at all. Due to the distinction between public and private health workers, public workers are prioritized, along with frontline forces and employees of big business groups. Therefore, there are not enough vaccines for all health workers.

Sai Gon Box is a small project that I did during the lockdown period in Saigon during the COVID-19 pandemic. I used my personal perspective and drew how Saigon looked during these pandemic days on a cardboard box. These are relief boxes from online orders that I had received. Being restricted from going outside has given me time to turn inward and observe and self-reflect. This reflection has helped me light up my creative energy for the idea for this project.

(Text courtesy of the artist)