Lê, An-My
Vietnam / U.S. (1960 - )
Small Wars (Ambush I)
1999 - 2002
Gelatin silver print
25 3/4 x 37 1/4 in. (65.4 x 94.6 cm) exposed image size; 26 3/4 x 38 1/4 x 1 1/2 in. (68 x 97.2 x 3.8 cm) frame size
Henry Acquisition Fund Purchase
FA 2011.14

To make her series Small Wars, An-My Lê photographed reenactments of the Vietnam War over the course of four summers in Virginia, participating in these fictional battles by playing Vietnamese characters on both sides of the conflict. For Lê, who was born in Vietnam and became a refugee at the age of fifteen, the human-scale and social aspect of reenactment helped her to grapple with the personal trauma of the Vietnam War, and also the immensity of war in general. Lê’s work often explores the almost incomprehensible global force of the United States military, while simultaneously considering the individuality of the people who compose it.
For this work, Lê used the nineteenth-century technology of a large format camera. Le’s photographs take advantage of the capabilities of this format, capturing in great detail the deciduous forests of Virginia, which provide a visual contrast to the densely tropical vegetation of the Vietnam landscape. Lê’s images are full of these sorts of slippages between the image and history, asking the viewer to consider the ways that both photography and reenactment can, through fiction, mediate our understandings of war.

Label copy for The Time. The Place. Contemporary Art from the Collection, November 4, 2017 to April 22, 2018.

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