Friday, 20 January 2017

POV: Asia Society's "Tin Ear"

As readers of this blog know, I spent the better part of the past two years on a wonderful project documenting/photographing/researching the indigenous Vietnamese Mother Goddesses religion (known as Đạo Mẫu) and its rituals (known as Hầu Đồng and/or Lên đồng) in Hà Nội and in the northern regions of Vietnam.

A few weeks after the birth and publication of my photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam , Đạo Mẫu was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity. This prestigious acknowledgement was received in Vietnam with enormous nationalistic pride as it honors its heritage, and I was privileged to have had the opportunity to give three talks and multiple television interviews about my book, the project and how a non-Vietnamese was able to acquire an expertise in these rituals.

On returning to New York City, still reeling from the euphoric feeling of having done a meaningful project, I decided I would try to interest one of the prime repository of Asian culture in the possibility of (1) setting up talks (including my own) about Đạo Mẫu, and (2) to set up shows of Hầu Đồng rituals which would coincide with -or follow- UNESCO's endorsement which occurred on December 1, 2016 to the jubilation of the Vietnamese.



(This print was enclosed to the above letter as a gift)


I wrote up a detailed proposal to the Asia Society (excerpts above), and Fedexed it to its destination a few days after the UNESCO announcement. 

As of today's date, no reply, no acknowledgment, no reaction of whatsoever nature emerged from the Asia Society. Not even a "thank you, but we are not interested" email or voice mail.

This from an institution whose stated mission is "Across the fields of arts, business, culture, education, and policy, the Society provides insight, generates ideas, and promotes collaboration to address present challenges and create a shared future."

Two issues are raised here. The first is that it is stupefying that the Asia Society hasn't been at the forefront of celebrating the inclusion of this Vietnamese heritage on the UNESCO list. To date, there's nothing about Đạo Mẫu on its website...Vietnam is certainly part of Asia the last time I checked.

The second issue is the blatant lack of civility in not responding to an obviously serious approach, which fundamentally was making it aware of an important cultural happening in Vietnam. The Asia Society is supposedly a vibrant cultural institution, with staff that ought to be aware of cultural developments, and it certainly appears they're not.

I am not bothered by rejections...but what I'm principally bothered by is the lack of awareness and secondly, the lack of civility and by the disrespect. 

More to come.