Dinh Q. Lê

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Dinh Q. Lê (born 1968; Vietnamese name: Lê Quang Đỉnh) is a Vietnamese American fine arts photographer, best known for his woven-photographs.

Dinh Q. Lê was born in 1968 in Hà Tiên, a Vietnamese town near the Cambodia border. The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia took place in 1978, when Lê was ten, his family emigrated to Los Angeles thereafter. After Lê received BFA degree in photography from University of California, Santa Barbara, inspired and taught by his aunt during childhood, he started his first photo-weavings using a traditional technique. He continued this skillful presentation while earning his MFA degree from The School of Visual Arts in New York.[1] His artwork includes installation, video, sculpture, and urban intervention. Dinh Q. Lê spends time in both Vietnam and Los Angeles producing his work.

Traditional inspiration[edit]

As one would weave a traditional grass mat in Vietnam, Dinh Q. Lê uses photographic strips and weaves them into an image. His woven photographs consist of several layers, which immediately attract and combine one's perception into mixed feelings. A mixture of joyfulness and sorrow is seen in the interlacing of a colorful fantasy and mournful pictures of the Vietnam War. Viewers need to spend some time in seeking and following the woven patterns in order to fully appreciate the intricate composition of imagery. Viewers enjoy searching for the significance and deep feelings in one strip overlapping another. While visually entering a state of seeking the cinematic montage fading in and out of the images, Dinh Q. Lê's meticulous effort in creating these unique images is being admired. Francesco Bonami (curator of the 50th Venice Biennale) highlighted his distinctive photo-weavings artwork, and an entire room is dedicated for his works in the Italian Pavilion in 2003.


By weaving strips of photos together using a planting procedure, Dinh Q. Lê creates large-scale photo-montages. Images are layered in a repetition of patterning with glossy tapestries made entirely out of type C prints that reveal his feelings. Linen tape is used to finish the edges, with his meticulous and precise craftsmanship.

Using photographs taken of the Vietnam War and images of himself as well as his family, Dinh Q. Lê makes astounding work. In his "Waking Dreams", he combines two extreme themes, namely beauty and terror. He also merges eastern and western cultures, current and historical, personal and fictional realities, through intertwining photographic strips.

Real and imagined memory[edit]

The helicopter from the video installation The Farmers and the Helicopters (2006)

Having his real and imagined memory of the Vietnam War as a theme, Dinh Q. Lê creates photographs with a different approach. After his family arrived the United States, he grew up watching a tremendous amount of films about Vietnam War. However, as he has never experienced any helicopters during the war, he found out that a memory that does not belong to him is imposed on him through films. His work includes both his collective memories and anxieties. His mixed feelings are presented by different characters in his work such as "the cowgirl-costumed Playboy Bunny toting a toy pistol from Apocalypse Now intertwined with South Vietnamese General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan and Viet Cong suspect Bay L op" in one of his strongest works. The execution was captured in Eddie Adam's stunning photograph; the two beautiful women replace Bay Lop in front of General Loan's gun. One being an anonymous black-and-white photo of a woman from the 1960s are woven into the leading actress in the Graham Greene film The Quiet American. The initial beauty of the photo appeals viewer instantly until calmly and quietly the image of General Loan appears. As he is interested in the ongoing effects of the Vietnam War on present and past societies, Lê is asserting an emphatic subject matter from a rare sociopolitical perspective. He keeps on documenting subjects in his native country. For example, birth defect caused by the U.S. military's use of Agent Orange. He also worked with Cambodian refugee children and often addresses personal experience of life in Vietnam during and after the war.

The impact of cultural shift[edit]

Apart from creating pictures that address the war and his memory. He interlaces the photographs taken during the Vietnam War with today's richly colored images from commercial packaging materials, such as candy wrappers, pop bottles and cereal boxes. A cultural shift in Vietnam in present days is being illustrated in his new collages. As globalizing corporate logos and symbols gradually replace the war imagery that has long dominated the country's visual language.


Dinh Q. Lê's artwork has been the theme of solo exhibitions at the Houston Center for Photography, the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies in an exhibition titled The Headless Buddha, which traveled to Portland, Oregon, Cambridge, Massachusetts and Santa Cruz, California. In 2000 he presented the exhibition "Cambodia: Splendour and Darkness" at the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky. In 2004, he was included in Beyond Boundaries: Contemporary Photography In California, an exhibition which traveled to California State University, Long Beach, California and to the Friends of Photography in San Francisco, California. This show follows his exhibition at the UC Santa Barbara Museum in Spring 2003.

The first major survey of Dinh's work, "A Tapestry of Memories: The Art of Dinh Q. Le", was recently organized by Bellevue Arts Museum, in Bellevue, WA, and an accompanying catalog was published.

The Museum of Modern Art (New York) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art have also acquired his works since 2004. The Asia Society has invited Dinh Q. Lê to participate in a solo show in 2005. A full color catalogue, with essays and an interview, is available in his first show in Hong Kong, at Chancery Lane Gallery.

The Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation,[2] Sydney, Australia commissioned and exhibited Erasure – an interactive sculptural and video installation that draws on recent debates in Australia concerning refugees and asylum seekers – which was shown from July – September, 2011. The gallery was transformed into a shipwreck and amid the destruction, the gallery floor was strewn with approximate 100,000 of black and white photographs – self-portraits, family and passport photos – which Dinh spent years buying in second-hand stores in the hope of finding his own family's pictures. During the exhibition, visitors are encouraged to pick up these photographs which will be removed one by one, scanned, catalogued, stored and uploaded to a purpose built Erasure Archive[3] for people to browse through this collection of oan hon (lost souls) and perhaps find their own families. A catalogue was published to accompany the exhibition.

In 2016 he produced "The Colony", an installation about a guano island. It was supported by Artangel.


Dinh Q. Lê has received several awards and grants, including:

  • Gunk Foundation Public Project Grant in 1998
  • NEA Fellowship in Photography 1994
  • The Dupont Fellowship in 1994
  • The Aaron Siskind Fellowship in 1992
  • The Prince Claus Fund Award in 2010


In 2007, Dinh Q. Lê co-founded the non-profit art space Sàn Art (Ho Chi Minh City) along with Tiffany Chung and Tuan Andrew Nguyen and Phunam Thuc Ha of The Propeller Group.[4]


  1. ^ Johnson, Ken. "Images of Vietnamese in the Generation Since the War", October 7, 2005. Accessed November 27, 2007. "Mr. Le came to the United States with his family when he was 11 and eventually received a master of fine arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan."
  2. ^ http://www.sherman-scaf.org.au
  3. ^ "ERASURE". erasurearchive.net. 
  4. ^ "The Propeller Group". Guggenheim. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  • A Tapestry of Memories: The Art of Dinh Q. Le (hardcover) by Stefano Catalani (author), Michael Monroe (author), Viet Thanh Nguyen (author), Moira Roth (Author), Dinh Q. Le (author), Sigrid Asmus (editor)

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