220 x 340 cm (each)
The name of the artwork is inspired by the title of a monk’s manuscript. Buddha, taking a few leaves in his hand, said to the monks: “All that I have seen and encountered are numerous, just like leaves among the grove, yet my teachings which I have revealed to you are but little, just like this handful of leaves in my palm…”.
Vo states, “History is a series of realities with one following another endlessly. All past events that have come and gone are also numerous like ‘leaves among the grove’, but those I recount in these artworks only amount to just ‘a handful of leaves’.
And these ‘handful of leaves’ are but only the tiniest segment in the fabric of Vietnam’s history, which I use as examples for the many events that once happened. They are ‘picked up’ together, as truthful as they were in the past and from that they serve to further elaborate other interwoven issues of society, culture and politics beyond any of its limited territory.”
Envisioned as a chamber, Leaf Picking in the Ancient Forest comprises four large abstract mosaics. Each quilted mosaic references historical photographs of Vietnamese textile factories and reflects the distinct cultural and political climates of North, Central and South Vietnam at different periods of time.
The mosaics are given titles that reference the five primary colours from which different shades and shadows are created to form more complex colours. Red depicts Phu Lam Weaving Mill in 1936 – the very first textile factory in South Vietnam. Blue refers to an image of the inauguration of the March 8th Weaving Mill in Hanoi with the attendance of President Ho Chi Minh (March 1965). Black and White features an interior view of the only textile factory in Central Vietnam, Phu Phong Silk Weaving Mill (photographed between 1919 – 1925). Yellow depicts Nam Dinh Textile Garment Factory in the north of Vietnam. Founded by the French in 1898, the factory was once Indochina’s largest. Formerly a symbol of pride for the residents of Nam Dinh, the factory was destroyed in 2016 to make way for a new urban development. The image in Yellow was photographed in 2016, right before the factory’s demolition.
For Leaf Picking in the Ancient Forest, Vo collected abandoned clothing from second-hand clothing stores to create her mosaic chamber. The mosaic quilts reflect only blurred images as if a metaphor for the fate of the textile factories. Inside the chamber, one sees another side/story in these historical images. Likened to the common living spaces for textile factory workers in Vietnam, the intimate, rough interior reveals the stitches, loose thread and backside of garments that are normally hidden.
When Vo uses used fabrics in her work, the provenance of the fabrics is considered and strongly connected to the subject that she addresses. Before 1986, Vietnam accepted large quantities of used, low quality garments from the USA, UK, Germany and the Netherlands as domestic supply was insufficient for local demand. While Vietnam’s economy has dramatically developed and the Vietnamese garment export industry is ranked among the top ten in the world, the “tradition” of importing used clothing remains the same. After the 2018 Chinese ban on many types of imported waste, southeast Asian countries including Vietnam have become the new dumping ground for waste from wealthy nations whilst the old textile factories have been destroyed and replaced by shopping malls and high-rise buildings that adhere to new land reform policies.