Sleeping and Eating

Opening reception: Friday, 2 December 2011, 6-8pm

During the past two decades Vietnam has been engaged in an ongoing process of transformation from a primarily rural, agricultural-based society to a more urbanized, industrial model. A concomitant phenomenon has seen the migration of millions of people from the country’s villages to its burgeoning metropolises like Ho Chi Minh City. While they tend to congregate in the outer districts, these migrants can be seen throughout the city plying their trades and providing a stark contrast to their more settled…

During the past two decades Vietnam has been engaged in an ongoing process of transformation from a primarily rural, agricultural-based society to a more urbanized, industrial model. A concomitant phenomenon has seen the migration of millions of people from the country’s villages to its burgeoning metropolises like Ho Chi Minh City. While they tend to congregate in the outer districts, these migrants can be seen throughout the city plying their trades and providing a stark contrast to their more settled…

During the past two decades Vietnam has been engaged in an ongoing process of transformation from a primarily rural, agricultural-based society to a more urbanized, industrial model. A concomitant phenomenon has seen the migration of millions of people from the country’s villages to its burgeoning metropolises like Ho Chi Minh City. While they tend to congregate in the outer districts, these migrants can be seen throughout the city plying their trades and providing a stark contrast to their more settled and affluent compatriots. Unable to integrate themselves into the urban environment, they cluster together on its edges, in the words of artist Lim Khim Ka Ty, “like a big dark shadow in the city.”

It is these seemingly marginal people that Ka Ty has chosen to make the focus of her work. Her choice stems from her deep respect and affinity for these hard-pressed people in whom she finds great reservoirs of strength and beauty. Having spent much time talking with them about their lives, Ka Ty has been inspired by their affable ways, their innocence and naivety, and their optimistic acceptance of their ill-favored fates.

Often Ka Ty’s subjects are depicted in what appear to be moments of some distress with countenances that are sad, starved, struggling. Although the artist describes her interactions with her subjects’ real world doppelgängers as generally filled with laughter and warmth, she chooses instead to show the hardships that inevitably permeate their existences. Ka Ty invites us to pay closer attention to this urban underclass and to empathize with the great challenges imposed on them by poverty and dislocation.

Choosing “eating and sleeping” as a theme for this collection was a natural choice for Ka Ty who wished to emphasize our shared humanity with her subjects. Ka Ty describes sleep as that “most wonderful of moments” when the trials and tribulations of life can be temporarily cast aside. The importance of such moments is magnified for the spare, sun-ravaged people that populate Ka Ty’s paintings. Such people can be seen in improbable positions of repose at any worksite in Ho Chi Minh City. Ka Ty finds beauty in the ways that they are able to adjust their spent bodies to whatever hard surface is available.

Although Ka Ty rejects the notion of any explicit social critique in her work, her paintings nonetheless draw attention to the fact that the benefits of Vietnam’s recent economic revival have not been evenly distributed. Stylistically and thematically Ka Ty’s work has echoes of Social Realism, but she is not denouncing the state or society at large. Instead of depicting her subjects as working-class heroes, she shows them simply as human beings equal to everyone else in their basic need for a good meal and a restful sleep. Ka Ty’s paintings serve as a vessel to express her personal feelings towards these less fortunate people in her own society.

The position of women in Vietnamese society, and the great demands placed on them are another common theme in Ka Ty’s oeuvre. The women in Ka Ty’s paintings are often portrayed in their roles as wives and mothers, roles that require them to sacrifice many of their own personal dreams and aspirations. Ka Ty subtly points out the unequal burdens placed on men and women in Vietnamese society in the painting Sons where a father (also a son himself) and son lie sleeping peacefully in snug blue cocoons while a number of faceless women hover watchfully over them.

The paintings of Ka Ty’s Eating and Sleeping series are evocative of the artist’s great affection for the people she paints and the beauty that she finds in them. Rather than resort to cliché, she has taken the time to get to know her subjects and her compassion and hope for them shine through. It is with these same feelings that we should strive to appreciate her work and to understand the profound link between all human beings that Ka Ty is ultimately pointing us towards.

Lim Khim Ka Ty was born in Ho Chi Minh City in 1978 to a Vietnamese mother and a Cambodian father. She is a 2001 graduate of the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts University and currently serves as a commissioner on the Executive Committee of the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Association. Ka Ty has had solo exhibitions in Thailand, Macao and Vietnam and has participated in numerous group exhibitions in Vietnam and abroad.

Craig Thomas and Xuan Mai Ardia

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