Crafting a sense of self taking place at Anderson Center
Antonius Bui's large family gets credit for planting the seeds of an artistic career that is getting national attention.
"My artistic career can be rooted in play," Bui explained. As children, young people in the family put on fashion shows, did photo shoots and created extravagant shows — complete with makeup and costumes ‑ to entertain each other and the adults.
Elements of those fun times reappear not only in Bui's art, but also in "how I adorn myself. Fashion is a way for you to express you are and what you believe in on a daily basis.
Bui finds it liberating to be constantly changing — one day wearing a suit, the next day putting on a dress.
"I fearlessly identify as a first-generation, queer, gender-nonbinary Vietnamese American," Bui said, explaining, "I don't identify as strictly male or female."
Bui prefers use of the pronouns they and them instead of he/him or she/her because "I embody a multitude of genders. Every single day I'll be at a different point on that spectrum of gender."
That inner dichotomy has made traveling to artist residencies challenging. Bui, who lives in Houston, Texas, arrived in Red Wing June 1 for a month at the Anderson Center after completing residencies in upstate New York and in San Francisco.
Bui's work is evolving — something that often happens to Anderson Center resident artists who find inspiration and discovery at Tower View in the presence of a group of creatives including writers, scholars, poets, artists and sometimes musicians and dancers.
"The majority of my portfolio comprises hand-cut paper portraits of queer Asian American Pacific Islanders who have shaped my sense of gender identity," Bui said.
The portraits are part of the ongoing project "Tale of Viet Kieu," a narrative that pays homage to April 30, 1975, the day South Vietnam fell to the communist government. According to Bui, the project "combats the American-centric narrative of the war by providing a platform for Vietnam citizens and Vietnamese Americans to be seen, heard and celebrated."
Bui has been creating portraits, taking photographs and recording interviews with Vietnamese people as a way of preserving their narratives and providing a history for future generations.
"Storytelling is essential to every artist and writer," Bui said. "These works are a form of storytelling. ...
"All of my work challenges the hetero-patriarchal white supremacist idea of history. I attempt to broaden the truth" through art and through a group called Viet Unity that seeks to give voices to groups including refugees whose stories are not well represented in the histories and monuments.
The original hand-cut paper portraits were of individual people — people of color and people who are LGBTQIA+.
Bui's full-size portraits were featured in a recent solo show in Houston. One of them, a portrait of friend Aiden Nguyen, was named a finalist in the Smithsonian Institute's National Portrait Gallery competition. Starting this fall, it will be on display there.
"This new body of hand-cut paper work" is more autobiographical, Bui said. It represents real people, but not a single person. "I'm now working on a utopic idea of what we can be" by morphing the figures through the spectrum of "my lived experience."
Bui began working on these pieces in April. They will be featured in a two-person show opening in September at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design. Part of the Mosaic Project, the show emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusiveness in the arts.
They are looking forward to community engagement activities, lectures and sessions with students — perhaps even a performance.
The works being created at Tower View are likely to be more highly embellished. "Backgrounds are influenced by my surroundings," Bui said, such as the way sunlight perforates a screen or how light is seen through the leaves of a tree. Those visuals are prompting experimentation with collage, textiles, color and jewelry.