Sheila Ngoc Pham
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Sheila Ngọc Phạm is a writer, editor and producer working across radio, print, online and screen. She has written for a wide range of literary and mainstream publications, as well as for institutions including the State Library of NSW, Museum of Contemporary Art and Fairfield City Museum & Gallery. Sheila has held digital and editorial roles at the ABC and continues to produce radio documentaries and stories for ABC Radio National, most recently Tongue Tied and Fluent, a five-part series exploring multilingualism in Australia. Her previous radio features include The Lost Cinema of Tan Hiep and Saigon’s Wartime Beat. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation and lectures in public health ethics at Macquarie University. Sheila Ngọc Phạm is a contributing editor to diaCRITICS for stories of and from the Vietnamese Australian diaspora.
"Given the current debates about representation in literature, I find myself reflecting on how I have always preferred books to be windows rather than mirrors. I was a voracious reader from a young age but growing up I didn’t particularly yearn for stories about what it meant to be Vietnamese – especially in Australia – because I was already drowning in the experience of it."
I used to dream of a simpler time, a Vietnam of thatch roof huts and banana leaves and lotus flowers. But this Vietnam only exists in my imagination. We must not romanticise a past that never was, or choose only to remember the innocence of our history. Spoiler alert: Nobody’s history is innocent. We must be brave enough to claim it all. People like me, who by today’s standards are referred to as 'people of colour' or 'minority groups', belong to histories which are not only as tremendous, as grand, and as civilised as the Europeans, but as brutal.
Chi Vu is a Vietnamese Australian writer and director, and her award-winning works span genres such as the postcolonial gothic, horror and magic-realism. Her most recent work, Coloured Aliens, is a critically acclaimed comedy about an interracial couple navigating their romance in the context of racism. Mai Nguyen, an Asian Australian playwright, soon discovers that 'White Australia' only wants her to write the 'ethnic' play. Her Anglo Australian boyfriend Kevin O'Sullivan is a security guard and ex-spoken word artist on hand to provide support - and advice.
We are Vietnamese. I did not feel at home in my own skin, a banana: yellow on the outside, white on the inside. That is, until I met other Vietnamese Australian artists like Chi Vu who had Vietnamese ancestry and artistic sensibilities.
Sheila Ngoc Pham's essay gives an encompassing look at graphic novels by diasporic Vietnamese comic artists—Thi Bui, GB Tran, Marcelino Truong, Clement Baloup—from different countries: "All of these works span the turbulent last century of Vietnamese history, and are complementary as well as overlapping. Beginning with life under French colonial administration and the struggle for independence, right through to life during the war and thereafter—when we became refugees, migrants, transnationals, travelers."
Huynh's work encompasses what he describes as interrogating 'war, diaspora, refugees, asylum seekers and migrant communities', and it's these parts of his practice that are highlighted in a current exhibition at Fairfield City Museum & Gallery in Australia.
Tiffany Chung’s works from her Vietnam Exodus Project are currently exhibiting as part of the 21stBiennale of Sydney in Australia. In Tiffany’s artist talk, which was recorded at Artspace, she discusses her ongoing research and projects on forced migrations.