Khue Nguyen — A Naked Star

Guest diaCRITIC blogger Boitran Huynh-Beattie—a professor, curator and art historian in Australia—introduces a talented Vietnamese-Australian gay artist, Khue Nguyen. Last year, Nguyen was a finalist with his self-portrait, Unleashed, in the prestigious Archibald Prize of 2010. He is currently exhibiting his collected works, In Search of Sensuality, in Sydney. His art is expressive and evocative, with textural layers of differing styles revealing simultaneous meanings—especially his stunning self-portrait Unleashed (featured below.) Wow!

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Originating in winter 1979, the Mardi Gras Festival in Sydney became a voice for human rights and justice for those labelled ‘criminals’ because they loved someone of the same sex or choose to be in a same sex relationship.

In 1981, the Mardi Gras Festival was moved to summer time, so that participants could enjoy more activities in the open air, especially the evening Mardi Gras Gay Parade along Oxford Street, usually attended by some ten thousand participants and hundreds of thousands of spectators. For the past two decades, the Mardi Gras Festival in Sydney has developed into an international event, attracting hundred of thousands of interstate and overseas tourists.

The 2011 festival season embraced a Vietnamese-Australian gay artist, Khue Nguyen with a solo exhibition: In Search of Sensuality, held at Art Atrium gallery in Bondi Junction in Sydney.

Khue Nguyen's self portrait, 'Unleashed'

Khue Nguyen graduated from the Fine Arts College in Saigon in 1984, escaped Vietnam in 1986, and arrived in Australia in 1987. In 2008, after working for years as a graphic designer, Khue decided to pursue a full-time art practice, which led to him to become a finalist with his self-portrait, Unleashed, in the prestigious Archibald Prize of 2010. Khue is the first Vietnamese name ever to reach the finals. The Archibald Prize is worth AUD 50,000 but what’s more, is the status and curiosity (and sometimes controversy) generated by both the public and the media, in the prize-winning painting and the overall selection of works.

Dawn is Near

The exhibition titled In Search of Sensuality displays 30 drawings that celebrate the beauty of naked (mostly male) bodies. The nakedness however, does not emphasize a sexual interest in the body but is strongly expressive of human feelings and vulnerability. Khue Nguyen is really at home in employing drawing techniques he learned from the art school in Saigon, to convey his personal message. His use of romantic titles, such as Fly Me To The Moon and Never Felt This Way Before, add another dimension to these Michelangelo-like drawings.

‘Fly Me To The Moon’

Khue claims, “Had I not lived in Australia, I would not have been able to express myself freely.” He has peacefully lived with his lawyer partner for 11 years.

In Sino-Vietnamese, “Khuê” means “star”. In the contemporary art scene with postmodern concepts and illusions, In Search of Sensuality reminds us of dimension of beauty in the human form that we often take for granted.

Dr. Boitran Huynh-Beattie has worked with the Australian National University, Melbourne University and the University of Wollongong on different projects related to Vietnam’s Diaspora since 2005.

Huynh-Beattie worked with Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Sydney, on several exhibitions. From 2009, Huynh-Beattie became the curator and art historian working with Asiarta Foundation, currently researching Witness Collection, a private collection of Vietnamese art works featuring influential artists from 1921 to the present.

Previously she has written for us The Exhibition of ‘Realism in Asian Art’ and the Symposium ‘Avant Garde in Asian Art’ in Seoul.


Simon Chan, a practicing architect who has a passion for art, founded the Art Atrium gallery in 2009. The gallery focuses on Asian and Aboriginal art and catalogues are available online.

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