Dinh Q. Lê
The Penal Colony
May 1 - May 31, 2008
Opening reception: Thursday, May 1, 6 8 pm
Dinh Q. Lê has been working for over a decade with issues of politics, memory and history and he continues this
exploration with The Penal Colony. Inspired by recent events in America, in particular the inhumane treatment
of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, this installation highlights the injustices and hidden
aspects of war and the secrets behind prison walls. The Penal Colony consists of a four‐channel video
installation entitled The Penal Colony and a new photo‐tapestry series, The Hill of Poisonous Trees.
The videos in The Penal Colony were shot in the political prison built on Con Dao Island, Vietnam in 1854 by the
French colonial government. During the Vietnam War, the prison was well known for imprisoning and torturing
anti‐war activists. Most of the activists imprisoned were nationalist, anti‐French and anti‐US involvement in
Vietnam, rather then communist. Thousands experienced the horrific living conditions in the notorious “tiger
cages”. Prisoners were constantly abused and tortured to renounce their communist belief while at the same
time, they were also under constant pressure from their fellow prisoners to convert.
The Hill of Poisonous Trees, (the translation of Tuol Sleng) has brought Lê to The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in
Phnom Phen, Cambodia, the infamous Security Prison 21 (S‐21) built by the Khmer Rouge regime. Featuring Lê’s
distinct photo weaving technique, this series focuses on the crudely constructed prison environment, which was
originally a high school. Images of the prisoners are interwoven with Buddha portraits from the Temple of Siem
Riep and with the prison’s interior to create a haunting images of Cambodia’s history and the secrets of war.
Dinh Q. Lê was born in Ha‐Tien, Vietnam in 1968, close to the Cambodian border. He immigrated in 1979 with
his family to California. He received a BFA from UC Santa Barbara (1989) and an MFA from the School of Visual
Arts (1992). In 1998, Dinh Q. Lê re‐established his permanent residence in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
In the Fall of 2005, Dinh Q. Lê had a one‐person show at the Asia Society entitled Vietnam: Destination for the
New Millennium. His work was also a major component of Permanent Vestiges: Drawings from the American‐
Vietnam War at the Drawing Center. He participated in the Venice Biennale in 2003 in Delays and Revolution. In
2006 he was included in Infinite Painting: Contemporary Painting and Global Realism, at the Villa Manin Centre
for Contemporary Art, Milan. Recent exhibitions include: A Tapestry of Memories, Bellevue Arts Museum,
Bellevue, WA, 2007.