Tran’s Abstract Sculptures Dialog with his Vietnamese and Chinese Identity

by Shin Young Lee

Howard Tran’s exhibition is open from Fri, Oct. 27 through Fri, Dec. 9 at the Bogigian Gallery in Lortz Hall. Once you step into the gallery, a huge sculpture called Hanh Trinh #1 makes you feel surprised. “Hahn Trihn” means “journey” in the Vietnamese language. This sculpture of a woman and man’s figure looks exotic, and Tran’s other art pieces do as well.

Going back to Vietnam

Tran is a Vietnamese-American artist. His parents are from Vietnam and they still live there. His grandparents are from China. Almost every year, he takes a trip to Vietnam.

Tran lived in Vietnam during his childhood and still remembers his old house. “Whenever I visit, I realize that Vietnam changes again and again. Even though I can speak in Vietnamese a little, I feel the gap between my identity and Vietnam. As time goes by, my old memory disappears like my old house in Vietnam disappears,” says Tran. He could not say exactly where his inspiration comes from, but usually, after his trip, he starts to create his work.

Straddling two nations

“Now I’ve lived in the U.S. more than Vietnam. I can’t say that my identity is Vietnam or American. Still it is difficult to say my identity in one word. To find my identity, I’m doing art work again and again,” Tran said.

His favorite art piece in the gallery is To Tien #21. “To Tien” means “ancestor” in Vietnamese. “To Americans, individualism is strong, but I think a person is not a person. In someone’s mind and spirituality, there is his or her ancestor’s legacy even though nobody recognizes,” said Tran. He feels his values and emotions change but his ancestors’, existence has an effect on him. “The very bottom face is the biggest and the upper figures are smaller. The bottom face means I and those smaller faces reflect my ancestors. They look tiny, but they exist in my mind,” Tran added while explaining the piece.

Artistic inspiration

His sculptures give various impressions to audiences. “I came to the U.S. when I was 16. I also had the confusion of identity like Howard Tran. During his explanation, I feel his enthusiasm to find his identity,” say Kotchaphorn Mangkalaphiban ‘15.

Howard Tran’s sculpture exhibition is on display at the Bogigian Gallery in Lortz Hall until Dec. 9. Gallery hours: Mon. – Fri. 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. For more information contact Professor Philip Lindsey at

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