Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue

March 15, 2019–September 2, 2019

Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)
Tiffany Chung

Tiffany Chung, Operation Lam Sơn 719, 30 Jan.–6 April 1971, 2018, acrylic, ink, and oil on vellum and paper, Courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York. © Tiffany Chung

Internationally acclaimed artist Tiffany Chung (b. 1969, Đà Nẵng, Viet Nam) is known for her multimedia work that explores migration, conflict, and shifting geographies in the wake of political and natural upheavals. Vietnam, Past Is Prologue, probes the legacies of the Vietnam War and its aftermath through maps, videos, and paintings that highlight the voices and stories of former Vietnamese refugees. Through this work, Chung documents accounts that have largely been left out of official histories of the period and begins to tell an alternative story of the war’s ideology and effects. A centerpiece of the exhibition is a new series of video interviews with former Vietnamese refugees who live in Houston, Southern California, and Northern Virginia that was commissioned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


Vietnam, Past Is Prologue is presented in conjunction with SAAM’s major exhibition Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965 – 1975, which emphasizes how American artists grappled with the dilemmas of the war as it was unfolding.

Vietnam, Past Is Prologue makes visible a history hidden in plain sight for the past forty-five years. Her subject, the War in Vietnam (1955 – 1975), has achieved a nearly mythic significance in the United States. In Vietnam, the War” devastated life as it had been known, dividing time into a before” and after.” Yet missing from the narratives told by these two sides is the perspective of the South Vietnamese, on whose behalf the Americans entered the war.

Through meticulously drawn and stitched maps, emotional interviews, and intensive archival research, Chung explores the experience of refugees who were part of the large-scale immigration during the post-1975 exodus from Vietnam. She begins with a fine-grained look into one person’s story — that of her father, who fought for the South Vietnamese military during the war, widens out to encompass the stories of former refugees from Vietnam, and pulls out further still to show the global effects of their collective migration in the war’s wake.

Sarah Newman, the James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art, organized the exhibition.


  • In, Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue, the artist probes the legacies of the Vietnam War and its aftermath through maps, videos, and paintings that highlight the voices and stories of former Vietnamese refugees. 

    TIFFANY CHUNG: People ask me whether I see myself as a visual artist, historian, anthropologist, or archaeologist. And to be honest, I see myself as an artist first and foremost, but I am not afraid of stepping beyond the boundary of art into other disciplines.

    My name is Tiffany Chung. I am here at the Smithsonian American Art Museum to discuss my exhibition, “Vietnam: Past is Prologue.”

    SARAH NEWMAN: In her exhibition, Tiffany Chung explores the legacies of the Vietnam War and its aftermath. A lot of her work highlights the experiences of former Vietnamese refugees using maps, videos, paintings, and archival research. The story is a personal one for the artist: she grew up in Vietnam, experienced the war there as a child, and then moved to the U.S. with her family after the war ended.

    TC: As Vietnamese Americans living in the U.S., our narrative of the war is almost invisible. I’m interested in hidden histories, or histories that were erased in the official records. So, the histories are real. They’re just not there for you to see.
    Media Series
  • In the exhibition Vietnam, Past Is Prologue at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, artist Tiffany Chung probes the legacies of the Vietnam War and its aftermath through maps, videos, and paintings that highlight the voices and stories of former Vietnamese refugees.

    TIFFANY CHUNG: My father was a helicopter pilot trained in the US, came back and fought in the war in the South Vietnamese Army.

    The work "Remapping History" started with me finding a photo of him online standing in his uniform in front of his helicopter, and somebody actually put the name of this place on the photo. And at the time, I did not have a clue of what that place was. So I called my dad who was in Houston. I was in Saigon. With the military map that I had in hand, he actually walked me through it, and telling me all these different airfields that he had frequented during wartime. So each time he named a place, I actually traced on the map, and I actually found it on a map. So, in the end, I decide I should make a trip to go through Route 13, National Highway 13, and see what those airfields had become.

    So just from a very simple, personal urge to understand my father’s journey, it opened up to this whole history.
    Media Series
    Start time

    International artist Tiffany Chung’s work explores conflict and migration in the wake of political and natural upheavals in Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue. Join Chung as she discusses her thought-provoking works at SAAM’s seventh annual James Dicke Contemporary Artist Lecture, honoring SAAM’s former commission chair, James F. Dicke II.

    “Here you see the personal and political meet, which is extremely moving.”

    —Holland Cotter, The New York Times

    A logo for the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative


    Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from The Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Michael Abrams and Sandra Stewart, Carolyn Small Alper Exhibitions Fund, Aida Alvarez, Maureen and Gene Kim, Jack and Marjorie Rachlin Curatorial Endowment, and the Share Fund. This exhibition received Federal support from the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.