Dead Objects

Phuong Ngo

1 Jan 2020 - 31 Dec 2022

Dead Objects (2020 – 2022)

Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, 2 million people fled South Vietnam. In 1981 my parents and brother became a part of this statistic, fortunate to have survived the perilous journey at sea, they were eventually resettled in Adelaide, Australia in 1982. Upon arriving in Australia, one of the first things they bought was a ceramic statue of Buddha; to this day it is central to daily rituals of ancestral worship in their household.

In 1986, my parents bought their first house, number 44 Liberty Grove would become the house that I grew up in, eventually leaving behind years later in 2006. For their new house, my mother stitched a pleated red velvet cloth for the Buddhist shrine, this would stay in place until 2010 when they left this house. Over the course of decades this piece of fabric has collected and recorded the rituals of Buddhist and ancestral worship. Small scorch marks from joss sticks, water stains from vases, impressions of objects, and the scent of sandal wood; the residual of actions and rituals that have been carried through historic upheavals of colonialism, conflict and displacement that have travelled from the Mekong Delta.

Dead Objects takes this red cloth as its starting point, the work seeks to reach back through objects that have been collected from my ancestral homes in Soc Trang, South Vietnam, as a way of unpacking the legacies and inheritance of ritual practice. Over the course of a century, shrine objects in these houses have been replaced and updated, those that have become disused eventually being displaced into my possession through careful negotiation over several years. Two pairs of candle sticks, three vases, two ceramic incense pots, and a bronze incense burner that no longer hold their purpose and ripped from their place of origin, now only hold meaning in what they once were. For me they represent a connection through to my ancestors, ones that I do not know and never will know, ones that I no longer share a place or a language with, but through these cultural rituals I am connected to none the less.

-Phuong Ngo


Dead Objects presented at:

Nostalgia For A Time That Never Was‘ The Substation, 2022

RITUAL – The Past in the Present‘ Cairns Art Gallery, 2021