War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City

The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh city was arguably the busiest attraction I visited on my two week adventure around Southern and Central Vietnam. Busier than any other must-see in the city including The Independence Palace, Fine Arts Museum, Saigon Post Office, History Museum and Saigon Zoo & Botanical Gardens, I was interested to see how the Vietnam War is interpreted and displayed to the thousands of tourists at this museum. Founded in September 1975 the museum aims to “systematically study, collect, conserve and display exhibits on war crimes and consequences inflicted on the Vietnamese people by foreign aggressive forces” and has nine permanent galleries over three floors covering Historical Truths, Vietnam; War & Peace, Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, Agent Orange Effects, Agent Orange Consequences, War Crimes, Requiem, International Support for the Vietnamese people in their Resistance War, Imprisonment, and an outdoor exhibition showcasing military aircraft and tanks from the period. The display is blunt – almost crude – and fairly harrowing. There is often very little text or interpretive material and it is heavily image led, with densely hung walls displaying photographs of other countries protests against the war and explicit images of the violence, incarceration and deformities inflicted upon both children and adults as a result of the chemical warfare deployed by the U.S military. As the museum is so strongly image led, it was also interesting to view an area dedicated to photographic journalists (many of whom sadly died during this conflict) and the poignant images captured during this war such as ‘Napalm Girl’. I did not get the impression the displays had been refreshed or updated since the 1970’s and although it is refreshing to view such an uncensored display, there was an undeniable bias and I left the museum feeling as though I had learnt less about the war than I had hoped to.

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The World Goes Pop: Tate Modern

A “pop” of colour was just what I needed on a grey afternoon as autumn truly begins to kick in… and that’s exactly what ‘The World Goes Pop’ gave me. Each of the ten large galleries in this exhibition is painted a different bright hue; from red, to pink, green, orange, blue, yellow, turquoise and numerous shades in between. Refreshingly all of the big names typically associated with pop art (Warhol, Lichtenstein, Blake, Hamilton and Hockney) are noticeably absent, and instead the focus is on exploring how different cultures and countries such as Romania, Iran and Bratislava contributed to this phenomenon throughout the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Many common pop art themes are present including the use of mass produced imagery; most notable in the last gallery which is decorated floor to ceiling with Thomas Bayrle’s ‘The Laughing Cow’ wallpaper and displays a series of instantly recognisable logos by Yugoslavian artist Boris Bucan such as BMW, Pepsi, IBM and Texaco amongst others where the brand has been replaced with the word ‘art’, questioning how far art itself has now become a consumerist product? All of the artists on display have utilised popular global imagery to subtly address tougher issues including war, the role of women and sexual liberation, protest and civil rights. Intelligently any political message does not detract from the works as pieces of art in their own right, and I was particularly drawn to three lacquered car bonnets decorated with shapes evoking female genitalia by Judy Chicago, the only woman on an auto-body course of 250 male students. Whilst some of the pieces were not to my taste, and several are now looking a little dated (particularly those created from plastics and polymers), I certainly appreciated the exhibitions’ efforts to widen the publics gaze at pop art and present previously uncelebrated works.

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