Vietnam is home to many untold local stories for the global audience. But what about the stories of the overseas Vietnamese that have come home? What are they thinking about and doing here? Are they connected to the local stories of Vietnam?
We decided to check in with Sandrine Llouquet, a contemporary visual artist from France who is now based in Vietnam. Born in France to parents of Vietnamese descent, she first arrived in 1997, when she spent one year at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Fine Arts.
Eight years later, Sandrine came back with ambitions to open a contemporary art center. Soon after arriving, she met the director of Vietnam’s leading contemporary art gallery, Galerie Quynh. Later, she would have her works exhibited throughout Vietnam and Asia. Today, she has become most popular for her water colour drawings, which has drawn interest and popularity from both formal collectors and casual art enthusiasts.
We decided to sit down with Sandrine to learn about her newest artistic project, Salon Saigon, and to learn more her own background and perspectives on the emerging art scene in Vietnam.
Tell us a bit about your technique and style.
The specificity of contemporary art makes it difficult to put style in categories. We can be influenced by anything. There are few borders between popular and high or fine art. Styles are permeable.
Regarding technique, two focuses of my work are drawing and water colors. I also enjoy more structural techniques such as installations and video projections.
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Any exciting new projects rolling out soon?
Salon Saigon will be a center for the arts, history, and knowledge. It’ll be reminiscent of French style salons during the 17th and 18th centuries. Intellectuals, writers, artists. It’ll have a hint of Saigonese casual flair to it. We’ll have a permanent art gallery installation and event space on the ground floor. On the top floor you can find a rotating exhibition of works that are curated by our team. It’ll feature both historical and contemporary artwork.
It’ll also feature a library with books related to Vietnamese culture ranging from the humanities, history, science, art, and architecture.
This space and alleyway is truly iconic. I’m excited to be working in a space that is a rich part of Vietnamese history. Currently, there’s a row of houses on this street that is owned by the founder of the Salon. These three houses previously belonged to the US ambassador to South Vietnam during the John F. Kennedy Presidency, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. The ambassador used to live in the house next door to Salon Saigon.
The proprietor of the Salon is John Tue Nguyen. He owns a series of businesses in luxury tourism, most notably Trails of Indochina. He loves heritage buildings and has several projects renovating old buildings. Other projects include an old imperial house in Hue and a restaurant in Hoi An.
Once it opens, it will be a quiet place to have tea, discuss with other admirers of art and history, initiate artistic projects, do some research or just read.
Why did you move to Vietnam?
Aside from being of Vietnamese heritage, I felt that the art community in France was too developed. Organizing art events, workshops…it is hard to stand out. In Vietnam, there are so many people interested in the arts, yet not enough space or activities to engage in artistic expression. Vietnam is much more dynamic than Europe.
What’s keeping you in Vietnam as an artist?
The same thing that brought me here: the dynamism.
What I like about being here and what I try to nurture is my status as a foreigner. I don’t understand everything. In a explorative sense, I like this kind of feeling. Even after 10 years, there are things about Vietnam that are exotic. There are feelings that I don’t understand.
In a physical sense, one of the areas that I love is Calmette Street around the antiques shops area and the fine art museum. Sometimes I see things that I don’t understand. Objects or tools. I just look at them and have no idea. What is it made for? I start to think about the kinds of stories of the people that make and sell them. It’s a way to get inspiration for creating art.
What kind of moods make you a better artist?
Feelings that are unknown to me inspire my artwork. In a way, I want to create the same comprehension in the viewer’s mind. It’s very exciting to create that translation. I strive to show in my artwork something that can intrigue you. Something that I don’t totally understand myself. In this way, myself and art-goers can use their brains to work and imagine.
Personality wise, I’m quite a positive person. When something goes wrong I’m optimistic. The mood I want to keep is to my sense of curiosity. To feel like a student. The themes of some of my artistic research focus on areas such as beliefs, religion, and cultural rituals. These subjects are so wide, the research is never-ending. In a good way. It keeps my intellectual creativity fresh.
By not knowing so much about a particular subject, it nurtures my artwork.
Who are the collectors of your artwork?
Most of my artwork is housed at Galerie Quynh, so I don’t have to find collectors on my own.
There are no patterns or themes to the collectors that I know personally. There are some people who collect my work, but I’ve never met. Sometimes they just come and like it. I’m making more efforts to build relationship with collectors, though it is difficult since Galerie Quynh takes care of that for me!
Ultimately, that’s the goal for Salon Saigon. More proximity and intimate conversations between artists, collectors, and the audience.
Where do you buy your art supplies?
For traditional art supplies, there are only two places.
Art Friend on 24 Le Thi Rieng or the row of nameless art supply shops on Nguyen Dinh Chieu road in front of the local architecture university. For more unconventional products and stores, Calmette Street has a lovely market. I have a lot of fun going there to buy supplies that I don’t exactly know or understand, while trying to mix it with my art technique. Experimentation keeps me on my toes.
What were some of your initial struggles in Vietnam and how did you overcome them?
I didn’t have any overwhelming or noticeable lifestyle adjustments in Vietnam. In a way, I struggled everyday for little things. Bits like comprehension or not following the same flow of logic. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s a little bit annoying.
What are you most proud of outside of your artwork?
Outside of my artwork, I am most proud of my family! My two daughters’ names are Lou-Andrea and Kim-Ly. My boyfriend’s name is Nicolas. We all live here in Ho Chi Minh City.