Phan Thao Nguyen


Looking Down no. 36


Oil on X-ray film backing

25 x 20 cm

Looking Down, a series of small paintings on X-ray film backings depicting human figures in various states of gazing downwards, takes as its inspiration Thao Nguyen Phan’s research on the Japanese occupation of French Indochina (1940–1945). During her research, the artist hardly found any archival images directly related to this period in Indochina, prompting her to turn to neighboring countries like Singapore and the Philippines, where such records were more abundant. During a visit to the Former Ford Factory in Singapore, where British forces surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army in 1942, Thao Nguyen encountered a photograph of a local woman bowing to Japanese soldiers when they passed by – a scene that deeply influenced Thao Nguyen’s reflections on the significance of gestures and what they signify. Drawing from this initial encounter, Thao Nguyen developed a collection of painted images – each portraying a different variation of the act of looking down – using source images taken from books, historical archives, and the internet. In Looking Down, the protagonist is stripped of his or her background, instead existing in a timeless, non-specific space. This downward gaze could imply submission, surrender or concession, yet it also encompasses the simple act of looking down in order to search for something, to bow or pay homage.

The work is on permanent display at the Khai Sang headquarters, Paragon, HCMC, Vietnam.

(Edited from text excerpts provided by the artist)