“Captain van Dang in the Great South Land, 2012”

figure 25- captain Van Dang

“Captain van Dang in the Great South Land” single channel animation, sound 16:9 screen 2012.

"Captain van Dang in the Great South Land" single channel animation, sound 16:9 screen 2012.

“Captain van Dang in the Great South Land” single channel animation, sound 16:9 screen 2012.

“Captain van Dang in the Great South Land”

My art practice over the past twenty-five years has been about the concept of the artist as ‘explorer’. I have used this methodology to explore the notion of home, trauma, dislocation and memory associated with the Vietnamese diaspora. In my art practice the term ‘explorer’ is a metaphor for a layered poetic signifier of self. My explorer is not the stereotypical explorer of a nation’s grand narratives; the heroic figure of legend. Rather, as an ordinary individual, I use the trope of the explorer to proactively negotiate the differences and/or similarities between my own cultural heritage and that of my new home environment in Australia.

My personal experiences as a refugee inform how I see the multiple geographical and social landscapes of Australia and Vietnam, and how I mediate a new sense of home from between these diverse experiences. In turn, this provides new knowledge and understanding of the physical and cultural terrain of both countries. Within my studio practice I have used this approach to create or reinvent layered landscapes through my personal experiences and memories in order to explore how a contingent, illusive/elusive ‘home’, that has also performed the role of a mythical symbol of refuge in the Vietnamese diaspora, has been inexorably linked to identity and belonging. I have also examined the ways in which narratives of personal journeys within the diasporic experience have been described in ways that have avoided the usual negative associations of ‘refugee status’, and that have instead been undertaken via a more positive approach to interpreting that role as akin to that of the ‘explorer’.

Captain van Dang in the Great South Land, is primarily concerned with the ongoing debate in Australia surrounding the so-called ‘influx’ of refugees arriving on Australian shores by boat, and how, as a result, Australia’s shoreline and beaches have at times become the site of a cultural battleground, as evidenced in the Cronulla riots that broke out on that Sydney beach in 2005.

Beaches both literally and metaphorically marked the memories and experiences of refugees as they have been the sites at which so many pivotal events have taken place: escape from death, internment in foreign lands, being trapped, distance from loved ones and the former spaces of your life – borders which seek to disconnect or erase. The beach has often acted as a boundary in the Australian psyche for keeping the Asian Others out.

This animation project Captain van Dang in the Great South Land takes a humourous and playful look at the arrival of a ‘fleet’ into Sydney Harbour. The fleet consists of boats that are culturally significant to the various and diverse migrant communities that make up the recent Australian immigration population. They include a dragon boat, a Pacific Island canoe, dhow boats, and other forms of vessels, including inflatable craft. The boat people in the fleet consist of a diverse range of ethnic communities who have made Australia their home. They arrive on Cronulla beach to enjoy a typical Australian recreational activity in the form of a barbeque.

All the boats in the ‘fleet’ are under the command of Captain van Dang, who is an explorer avatar of myself. The explorer character Captain van Dang was created to challenge and reposition the Asian Australian in Australian society by ironically referencing Australian iconic myths in order to reflect and create new possible interpretations. Such iconic myths include that of the bushranger outlaw Ned Kelly who has been appropriated by an element of white nationalist Australians in order to define and reinforce their own sense of national identity. The video animation references current tensions between some aspects of Australian society and members of the Middle Eastern community through using a symbol of Ned Kelly meeting an Arabian woman on the liminal space of an Australian beach.

© Dacchi Dang, 2013 All rights reserved

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