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Frances Dorsey Saigon

Frances Dorsey Nostalgia Series (detail)
Frances Dorsey Nostalgia Series (detail)

Nostalgia Series 2007
6 woven panels: dyed (natural indigo, indigo extract, and fiber reactive dyes) woven linen, some silk; overdyed and over-printed, embroidered
Courtesty of the artist (photo by Steve Farmer)
13 Oct 2007 – 25 Nov 2007

As a child in the 1950s, Haligonian textile artist Frances Dorsey lived in Saigon, Viet Nam. Her father, a WW II veteran for several years attached to the US Embassy in Saigon, believed that the American presence there would avert a war. Dorsey remembers Saigon as a serene and beautiful city. Yet, in hindsight, she dwelt in “paradise on the edge of conflagration. Most people I knew there were later killed. And of course many high school classmates went there to be killed or maimed. My heaven was hell for most people.”

An associate professor at NSCAD University, Dorsey works in cloth as a way of engaging critically with painting and of bringing global themes within the scope of family life and domestic practices. Much of her work includes photo-derived images of war. In this context, her use of distressed, pieced-together, salvaged cloth–a pictorial version of the patchwork quilt–offers a pointed critique of the tradition of “history painting” in which large paintings on canvas glorify war. Positioning herself in relation to this ideological terrain she comments that “my family’s roots are in the Southern US, where the War Between the States was ever present–it was a defeated country. Battles were fought on your turf, your ancestors died defending their land. War was associated with courage and the protection of what was precious.”

The works in this exhibition fuse the artist’s memories of a deceptively peaceful Saigon with her father’s journal entries concerning the war in Europe that had ended ten years earlier. Floating over reed-like clumps of rice, the father’s shocked account of life at the front accentuates the disorienting effects of the works’ formal qualities. For many people, “Saigon” and “rice paddies” conjure horrific associations with events in Viet Nam and Cambodia–and, by extension, with the continuing armed conflict in Iraq. For Dorsey, this ominous landscape may represent the process of dis-illusionment that brought her to Canada as a conscientious objector, later transforming her into a peace activist–and her father into a chronic depressive.

Frances Dorsey’s work has appeared in solo exhibitions at Eye Level Gallery (1999), Eastern Edge (1997), and Anna Leonowens Gallery (2003, 2004). She has also taken part in significant group exhibitions such as Image Rites (1997, MSVU Art Gallery) and Jacquard 2000 (Centre des Textiles Montreal). She was the inaugural recipient of the Lillian Elliott Award (1995, Berkeley, CA) which supports emerging artists creating exceptional fibre work, and served as elected Co-chair of the 2006 Textile Society of America Biennial Symposium held in Toronto.

The exhibition and catalogue were produced with support from Nova Scotia Tourism, Culture & Heritage, and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Catalogue essay by Pat Hickman

Saigon Stories by Frances Dorsey

Frances Dorsey: SaigonPurchase this catalogue

CBC Artspots: Frances Dorsey

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Exhibition Images
Click on an image to enlarge it.
Frances Dorsey Nostalgia 1Frances Dorsey Nostalgia 2Frances Dorsey Rice Paddies 1Frances Dorsey Rice Paddies 2Frances Dorsey Saigon 1
Frances Dorsey Saigon 2 detailFrances Dorsey Saigon 3 detailFrances Dorsey Water and Sky 1Frances Dorsey Water and Sky 2 

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