Ngọ Môn (Meridian Gate) �, 2016

Mixed used fabrics, cotton, thread

84,5cm x 134cm

“Ngọ Môn”, the Meridian Gate, is embedded in Hue’s logo. In the past the French Resident Superior exerted considerable diplomatic effort as well as protectorate power to negotiate the rights to travel through the main gate instead of using the side gate like other envoys, as this gate was originally reserved for just the emperor and his entourage. Today, this gate signifies no special privilege, allowing anyone to pass through. (A tour of this gate takes no time, ending at the upstairs quarter after a narrow flight of stairs.) In the form of a mosaic tapestry, the image of the “Meridian Gate” lacks the stability of bricks and stones but appears like an elusive gleaming castle. This brings to mind Bao Dai’s library (Tàng thư lâu) in the inner citadel, now adorned with colorful lights, flashing green and blue and red every night; or the Tứ Phương Vô Sự Pavilion (roughly meaning “the Pavilion of Peace for all Corners of the World), now converted into a coffee shop; or a further association would be the tacky cultural festivals organized every year at the front premise of the citadel. This gate opens into such a haphazard, careless reality. From another angle, it closes on a past on which bombs and renovations have significantly eroded away.[1] What then does the Meridian Gate symbolize?

[1] The Hue citadel was bombed in the Mau Than Tet Offensive and badly damaged in 1968. Generally, all renovation efforts on the inner citadel (and many other cultural heritages all over Vietnam) do not conserve but seem to paste a new face on the old structure. Read “Billions and the scars on our heritage”, Tuoi Tre cuoi tuan 3.12.2011 (http://tuoitre.vn/tin/tuoi-tre-cuoi-tuan/20111203/tien-ti-va-nhung-vet-thuong-di-san/467759.html, last time checked on 4.2.2017)

Text by Tra Nguyen.