In 1975, the Viet Cong took Saigon. This signalled the end of the Vietnam war with America and Vietnam’s involvement in the complex politics of the Cold War. Four years later, the policies of the communist regime would threaten the safety of thousands in Vietnam. In 1979, the UNHCR was forced to intervene. The crisis caused the displacement of over 800,000 individuals who fled to the United Kingdom and United States.
The crisis led to the tragedy of the ‘boat people’. They were refugees from Vietnam who had escaped on overcrowded boats. Unaware of their destination, many were forced to go without food or water for days. Accompanying starvation and drowning were pirates at sea. Hanh Tran, now settled in Wales, described that upon the arrival of the pirates with guns “people started to cry and cry and cry”.
Internationally celebrated artists have arisen from the depths of this tragedy. Hong Dam was one of them. Resettled in the UK, Dam fled Vietnam at eight years old. The death of her father and the birth of her daughters made Dam realise the calling she had for art. In particular, art that showcased her experiences as a refugee. For five years, Dam put together a visual diary of digital art work. The piece consisted of childhood memories. Dam included interviews with other refugee children who arrived in Britain in the 1970s. This gave her work a more expansive picture of the crisis. Her emotive, dream-like images were exhibited in the British museum. Dam describes her work as based on themes of “displacement, sense of not belonging, separation, loss, hope - promise of a better life”. It honoured the unnamed heroes of the Vietnamese refugee crisis, who Dam knew and remembered.