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Mai Phuong Thompson: Reunion

Winsor Gallery
Vancouver BC thru June 7, 2004

Mai Thompson - Rebuild
Mai Thompson, Rebuild (2003), oil on canvas [Winsor Gallery, Vancouver BC, through Jun 7]

Mai Phuong Thompson was born in Saigon in 1960 at the beginning of the Vietnam war. She vividly remembers riots and a downpour of propaganda leaflets before her family escaped the Communist takeover on a refugee boat. She lived in a Malaysian expatriate camp before finally receiving a long-awaited visa.

After settling in Canada, she studied for a Masters Degree in Mathematics and began teaching at the University of British Columbia. Thompson then started to write her autobiography and discovered a passion for painting.

Thompson approaches her semi-abstract painting as “an exploration of the interior”. Through art, she has been able to turn her personal tragedies into metaphors of colour and restrained passion. Living in Saigon after its collapse, among the exodus of refugees from the central provinces, she had watched as school friends joined the Youth Communist Party and teachers vanished for “re-education”. From escape by boat to her family's quarantine on a Malaysian island, Thompson turned her mind only to basic survival.

Her paintings today express her pent-up horror and despair for all the lost years of her life through low-key, semi-abstract images of hills, bamboo fences, mud walls and rice paddies. Using muted colours and low horizons, Thompson emphasizes the concept of land with its deceptive stretches of freedom. In many paintings, the terrain of Vietnam is portrayed against a grid of brushlines that appear to allude to metal or bamboo barriers.

Mia Johnson

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