One of the most famous pictures from the Vietnam War is one of a naked girl running from explosions in the background with napalm burns all over her body. I first saw it when I had to write a response poem to Kate Daniele’s “War Photograph,” which I think gives the typical response of feeling sorry but not taking enough responsibility. I cried when looking at the photo because I felt that, even though I grew up in America, I was still connected to her pain because I have Vietnamese blood in me. We looked so similar. The goal of my art project is to make people feel how I felt at that moment.
I printed the naked girl on one mirror and an image of myself as a child on the other. The mirrors are placed so that the images can reflect within each other, giving them an opportunity to have dialogue. The printed poems sit alongside the girls, using the same typeface Optima that is in the Vietnam Memorial.
Images of war appear so absurd and shocking when viewed from a safe, domestic place. People can escape their discomfort by just turning off the news; they feel sorry for a few seconds, and then return to their normal lives. The hope is that the mirrors will force people to continue looking, and that they will change the way they think of the Vietnam War, of the War Photograph, or of war and suffering in general as a result of their new contemplation.
My Ngoc To /ME-knock TOE/ was born in Long, An, Vietnam and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently a senior at Harvard, studying psychology and aiming to become a psychiatrist who makes art. As Chekhov puts it, “Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress.” My Ngoc works in many mediums. This is her first exhibition(!). www.myngocto.com