Dang Thi Khuê / Vietnam b.1946 / Light and a pair of hands, A pair of hands and stars, Space and a pair of hands (triptych) 1995 / Oil on canvas / 122.5 x 72cm, each / Purchased 1996. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Dang Thi Khuê

Dang Thi Khue
Space and a pair of hands (right-hand panel of triptych) 1995

On Display: Regional Touring Exhibition

The triptych Light and a pair of hands, A pair of hands and stars and Space and a pair of hands reflects Dang Thi Khuê’s continued interest in the role of women in Vietnam, especially that of women within traditional communities, the place of ethnic communities in north Vietnam, and Dang’s Buddhist beliefs.

Each work features a pair of hands and geometric designs. The hands quote symbolic gestures used in Buddhist and Hindu iconography, which are usually the gestures made by divinities. Known as mudras, these symbolic gestures play an important religious role in teaching Hindu and Buddhist doctrine. In these three paintings the gestures are made by women and the works pay homage to the role of woman as teacher, mother and healer. By transferring hand gestures usually connected to the Buddha to a woman, the symbolic functions of guardian, instructor and preserver are implied and celebrated.

The geometric design is characteristic of the textiles woven by women from ethnic communities in North Vietnam who live along the borders of Laos and China. By including these traditional textile designs, Dang establishes the presence of these ethnic groups within a wider Vietnamese culture.

Dang Thi Khuê is an artist with a career that has involved a range of activities including teaching and politics. Born into a family of Confucian scholars, she is an art historian as well as an artist. She has been a public figure in Hanoi for a number of years and her interest and engagement with contemporary art began in earnest during the late 1980s with the beginning of the ‘Doi Moi Policy’, economic reforms that sought transform Vietnam into a socialist-oriented market economy. This policy shift resulted in a blossoming of contemporary art in Vietnam and Dang belongs to a group of artists who seized this opportunity to explore a wide range of issues with specific local meaning.