Dan Lynh Pham: Việt kiều Cowgirl
Vietnamese American artist, Dan Lynh Pham grew up against the white, mid-western backdrop of Tulsa, OK. Pham’s work explores identity, feminism, anti-Asian hate, and fetishization through powerful and elegant imagery.
Following her 2016 graduation from OSU where she received a BFA, Pham took a hiatus from art. Then, with time on her hands during the pandemic, she returned to creative expression. Pham made the first post on her art Instagram on May 31st, 2020. From there, her page blossomed into a public journal of private life.
“My artwork is kind of like a personal visual diary that moves between personal and external experiences,” Dan Pham explained. “On the personal side, I explore cultural identity and the economy of being raised in a really conservative Vietnamese household and at the same time participating in a predominately white American culture.”
In pieces like “Asian American Banana,” “IYKYK: The Struggles of Loving Your Eyes,” and “The Exotic Other,” Pham tackles such issues as assimilation, European beauty standards, and the exoticization and fetishization of Asian women.
Depictions of food serve as cultural codes in paintings like “Birthdays in America” and “Birthdays in Vietnam” where Banh Mi and Hamburgers symbolize her Vietnamese and American identities.
While her work explores the particularity of her experience, it also has an edge of relatability that has allowed her to connect with other Asian Americans through Instagram.
“I have created a small Asian community, that I only know by their usernames,” Pham said. “But at the same time, we talk about our experiences—and it’s crazy how similar everyone’s experiences are. Especially other Asian Americans who grew up around not a whole lot of Asian peers.”
Some of Pham’s newer works redefine traditional and stereotypical ideas of Asian femininity. “I’m wanting to change that narrative of the asian woman being looked at as docile and submissive and quiet,” Pham said. “I want that to be represented as loud, strong, and warrier-like.”
In our conversation, Pham explained that even history contradicts these stereotypes. Vietnam was once a matriarchy with strong female warriors leading the way. With images of girls and women lifting weights, or flexing, Pham turns the submissive and quiet stereotypes on their head.
Pham’s art does more than serve as a personal outlet and virtual community builder. It also turns the viewer's attention to the rise in Asian American hate crimes.
“I think the rise in Asian American hate crimes is probably why I’ve switched over to talking about Asian Americans,” Pham explained. “Asian hate crimes have gone up so high, but I feel like the traction of people just knowing that it is happening didn’t happen until this year. I just wanted to bring more light to it.”
In light of the recent horrific shootings in Atlanta, Pham continues to use her work to keep the conversation going and confront hate head on.
“In the past, when I voiced that I still experience racism to this day, I was met with surprise,” Pham articulated. “To give support to the AAPI communities means we need to recognize the racism and xenophobia that Asians experience. We need to recognize that the shooting in Atlanta, GA is a hate crime against Asian women and to start including the AAPI community in our talks about race and racism in America. We need to be seen more as humans and less as an exotic commodity.”