Dinh Q. Lê: True Journey Is Return

  • Spotlights showcase 7 large box-like structures in a long white gallery space with a high arched ceiling. Faintly visible strings from the ceiling hold each structure in formation, revealing their fragility and are precariously composed.

    Installation photo of Dinh Q. Lê: True Journey Is Return. Photo by Benjamin Blackwell. 

  • A diamond shaped painting in a white frame hangs on a white wall. The mosaic-like image is composed of reds, fuschias, dark blues, and whites in an all-over pattern suggestive of—but not quite identifiable as—flowers. Faint lines throughout the image suggest a woven quality.

    Dinh Q. Lê 
    Untitled, from the series “Tapestry,” 2006 
    Chromogenic print and linen tape 
    53 × 53 inches 
    Courtesy of UBS Art Collection 

  • Dinh Q. Lê
    Untitled (detail) from the series "Tapestry," 2006
    Chromogenic print and linen tape
    53 × 53 inches
    Courtesy of UBS Art Collection

  • Installation photo of Dinh Q. Lê: True Journey Is Return. Photo by Benjamin Blackwell. 

  • Installation photo of Dinh Q. Lê: True Journey Is Return. Photo by Benjamin Blackwell. 

  • Installation photo of Dinh Q. Lê: True Journey Is Return. Photo by Benjamin Blackwell. 

  • Installation photo of Dinh Q. Lê: True Journey Is Return. Photo by Benjamin Blackwell. 

  • A still image of a distant group of people wearing different types of hats and carrying bags. It is sectioned into three in a chronological order from left to right. Images of humans overlap with transparent effect. They are walking on shallow muddy water.

    Dinh Q. Lê
    Video still, The Imaginary Country, 2006
    Four-channel video installation with sound
    Dimensions variable Running time: 16 minutes, 4 seconds
    © Dinh Q. Lê. Courtesy of the artist and Shoshana Wayne Gallery

  • A video installation divided into three sections. A flying military helicopter is in the center, two military helicopters flying low in a forest is on the left, while a man with overlaid text, “They said that if you run or hide, the helicopter would shoot you dead” is on the right.

    Installation photo of Dinh Q. Lê: True Journey Is Return. Photo by Benjamin Blackwell. 

The largest solo exhibition in the United States in more than a decade of the work of internationally-renowned artist Dinh Q. Lê, this exhibition of five major video and photography installations entwines rarely heard narratives of war and migration from people in North Vietnam, the Vietnamese diaspora, and refugees who, like Lê, have returned to live in their home country. Assembling these obscure stories through the collection of found photographs, artists’ war sketches, and oral histories, Lê presents a multifaceted story about Vietnamese life before, during, and after the Vietnam War. In the process, he questions the viability of collective memory and reveals the effects of trauma on the cultural imagination.

While Lê is best known for his unique photo weavings—interlaced vertical and horizontal strips of documentary photographs and Hollywood films stills about the Vietnam War—this exhibition highlights his ongoing experimentations in video and photography installation. He explores themes of departure and return, the role of the artist during times of war, and reimagining symbols of American imperialism and recent histories of Vietnam through documentary videos and multichannel cinematic presentations, delicate watercolors and abstract paintings made by his artist/subjects, and architectural structures that comprise thousands of photographs abandoned by families fleeing from the ravages of war. Engaged with other Vietnamese voices and perspectives, Lê reshapes and generates new memories and images of the conflict by giving voice literally and metaphorically to those marginalized by history.

The exhibition also includes a selection of rarely seen images of flowers photographed by Lê in Saigon’s flower market. Abstracted through the artist’s signature photo weaving technique, these beautiful yet elegiac floral compositions memorialize lives lost to war and violence in Vietnam while symbolizing a promising and bountiful future for the country.

Dinh Q. Lê: True Journey Is Return is the fourth exhibition in SJMA’s ongoing series New Stories from the Edge of Asia, which features work by artists from Pacific Rim countries and cultures who push the boundaries of narrative in contemporary art.

Exhibition Catalogue

Exhibition Catalogues

Published by SJMA, the fully illustrated exhibition catalogue includes documentation of the exhibition; a transcribed conversation between Dinh Q. Lê and Moira Roth, Trefethen Professor Emerita of Art History, Mills College, Oakland; and essays by Rory Padeken, SJMA associate curator and curator of the exhibition; Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde, associate professor of Asian American Studies, University of California, Davis; and Nora A. Taylor, Alsdorf Professor of South and Southeast Asian Art History, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Available for purchase at the Museum Store.

Artist Biography

Born in 1968 in Hà Tiên, Vietnam, Dinh Q. Lê and his family immigrated to the US in 1979. He received his BA in studio art from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1989 and MFA in photography and related media from The School of Visual Arts, New York, in 1992. He currently lives and works in Vietnam. Recent awards include a Rauschenberg Residency, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York (2016); Bellagio Creative Arts Fellowship, Rockefeller Foundation, New York (2014); Visual Art Laureate, Prince Claus Fund, Amsterdam, Netherlands (2010); and Artist-in-Residence, Tokyo Wonder Site Aoyama (2009). He has had solo exhibitions at such venues as Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2015); Rice Gallery, Houston (2014); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010); Bellevue Arts Museum Washington (2007); Asia Society, New York (2005); and The Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky (2000). His work is in the collections of Asia Society, New York; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and San José Museum of Art.


What's up in SF museums and galleries this fall, San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate)
August 22, 2018

SF Bay Area fall arts 2018, The Mercury News
August 26, 2018

Photographic Memory, Modern Luxury Silicon Valley
September 13, 2018

Artist Dinh Q. Lê “Returns” to California for His Largest Exhibition in a Decade, SFGate
September 7, 2018

Dinh Q. Lê's Beautiful Diaspora, Metro Silicon Valley (Metroactive)
September 26, 2018

Memories Shape a Possible Future in Dinh Q. Lê's 'True Journey is Return', KQED Arts
September 26, 2018

True Journey is Return in Review by Miranda Caravalho, ArtsEarth
October 3, 2018

(un)making Episode 34: Dinh Q. Lê, Art Practical
October 10, 2018

Dinh Q. Lê @ San Jose Museum of Art, Squarecylinder
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Best of 2018, Squarecylinder
December 22, 2018

Dinh Q. Lê: Confronting Collective Memory, Photograph Magazine
January 2019

Dinh Q. Lê at San José Museum of Art, California, ARTNEWS
February 5, 2019

Dinh Q. Lê and the Art of Weaving Memory, KQED Arts
February 16, 2019

Visit an Exhibit: Bay Area Museums Offer Compelling Shows, SF/ARTS
February 18, 2019

Now Playing! Southeast Asian Film Asserts Itself in San Jose and Beyond, KQED Arts
March 18, 2019


City of San José Supported, in part by a Cultural Affairs grant from the City of San José. Henry Luce Foundation NEA
Dinh Q. Lê: True Journey Is Return is made possible in part by grant support from the Henry Luce Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Asian Cultural Council, and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

The exhibition is sponsored by The Lipman Family Foundation, the Richard A. Karp Charitable Foundation, Tad Freese and Brook Hartzell, Lucia Cha and Dr. Jerrold Hiura, and Evelyn and Rick Neely. Additional support comes from Lisa and Keith Lubliner. In-kind support for equipment is provided by Genelec, NEC Display Solutions, and BrightSign.