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February 14, 2023

Punk, proud and loud

From cakes exploding with saccharine colour to pig intestines pinched by koala clips, emerging artist Truc Truong uses a trove of textural mediums to explore the forces of power in Australian society.

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  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • Main image: Truc Truong by Andre Castelluci, backdropped by 'Let Them Eat Cake' (2022)

In a studio upstairs at Adelaide Contemporary Experimental, there are bits of bleached, fraying fabric scattered across the floor. The room is otherwise spare, featuring a large workbench toward the back, on top of which sits a plastic container of pineapple cookies.


Truc Truong’s ‘macro-stuffed-supper’ is showing now ’til 4 March.
Post Office Projects
175 St Vincent Street, Port Adelaide 5015

More info here

This article discusses suicide. If this story raises issues for you, call LifeLine on 13 11 14.

This is the creative space of Truc Truong, one of ACE’s Studio Program artists for 2023. When we knock on the gallery door, the artist is wearing a baggy black t-shirt over an elegant silver jumpsuit. Truc takes us upstairs to her creative engine room.

Truc’s practice is a multi-faceted melding of found objects, music, fabric and ceramics, all of which she accents with humour. She uses these many forms to explore the notion of power, particularly in relation to her life as a Vietnamese Australian.

“I started out saying that my art practice is always tied to critical race theory and racial topics, but I think, at the core, it actually looks at power,” Truc says. “I actually interrogate what that power looks like and how that’s affected me and my community.”

Stationed at her work bench, our eyes are drawn to a tattoo on Truc’s wrist, the number ‘7582’. She explains the tattoo is a reference to two dates: 1975, the year of the fall of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh), and 1982, the year her parents fled Vietnam as refugees to Australia.

Until recently, the artist bio on Truc’s website made reference to being “stuck in a pre-1975 Saigon time loop”. Both she and her parents are constantly reliving a moment in time in their homeland before everything changed. This feeling of a dislocated connection to time and place that no longer exists permeates through Truc’s work.


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A post shared by Truc Truong (@truccc_)


An example of these reverberations could be seen in Let Them Eat Cake, a work which consisted of large banners emblazoned with lyrics from ‘Sài Gòn Đẹp Lắm’ (‘Saigon is so beautiful’), a song from her childhood and one of her mother’s favourites.

In a more recent work, her family was more formally involved. Cakeism was a performance piece that happened at ACE in December, in which Truc decorated a monstrously garish cake live in the gallery while local hardcore three-piece Winnerz Circle played a crushing set. As this mayhem occurred inside, Truc’s family supplied punters with freshly made tofu banh mi in the courtyard.

While food has been a useful tool in Truc’s work, she says it was “the way I realised that I was different” growing up.

“People said ‘Your food looks weird’ or ‘Your food stinks’,” she says. “And although Vietnamese restaurants are so popular now, [back] in the day, if you brought in a banh mi they would question it.”

As an adult, Truc uses food as a bridge to build relationships with non-Vietnamese people and, in her art, explore personal memories. It is a yummy soft power able to win over an audience – a “gateway for me to build relationships and share culture in this really genuine way”.

Big baked energy at ‘Cakeism’. This picture: Thomas McCammon


Another of Truc’s tools is humour, evident in the koala clip she’s pinched onto pig intestines, or in the pannelled jeans worn as part of a traditional lion costume.

Humour is also at the forefront of Truc’s ‘macro-stuffed-supper’, a work currently being exhibited at Post Office Projects in Port Adelaide. It features 13 plush diners – second-hand Disney and Sesame Street toys sourced from Facebook Marketplace – sat around a dinner table.

“The work is huge and you’ll hate it or love it. Most people hate it,” Truc laughs. She says the work is a reinterpretation of ‘The Last Supper’, which “thousands of artists” have reworked through their own lens. Truc’s reading of the famous painting is as a display of how power interplays in human relationships. “There is a lot of competition and negativity,” she says.

As an artist who mines her personal history for inspiration, Truc is often asked if she considers her work to be authentically Vietnamese. As she’s matured, Truc has realised the answer is no.

“The Vietnamese community and the culture that was built here and what I grew up with, I thought that was authentic Vietnam because everyone’s Vietnamese,” she explains. “But then I’ve come to realise that everything that they uphold, and all the songs that I knew, and all the recipes came from that period of just before the fall of Saigon, that they weren’t allowed to enjoy that culture anymore. They came here and they try to kind of re-loop that here.”

Since having this realisation, it’s been a challenging process for Truc to discover what it means to be Vietnamese Australian – a third culture kid of the Vietnamese diaspora.

Truc says her work is “not bringing up the past”. This picture: Jack Fenby


Prior to her art career, Truc studied fashion, and even founded a label called HAUS. The project didn’t work out, which led Truc into a period of not knowing what to do with her life. In 2017 she studied teaching, but hated it, which led her into a negative mental space.  This was then compounded by her grandfather’s death.

At this time, Truc became suicidal. “I wanted to stop everything, but my sister picked up on the signs,” she says. She was quickly put on medication and took up regular therapy sessions, which gave her some insight into the path that led her to a mental crisis.

“The therapist and the doctor were, like, ‘I think you have a lot of racial trauma that you haven’t actually dealt with’,” she says. “I didn’t realise because I became so cold to it, and if anyone talked about it, I’d be, like, ‘Nah, I grew up in Australia. I’m fine. I got over it’.”

While studying teaching, Truc took a ceramics elective. Throwing clay became an outlet.

“I went from not being able to leave the house to my mum calling me at 10pm at night and saying, ‘Where are you?’ I had no idea that I had spent 12 hours in the studio,” she says. “It was so nice. I think ceramics does that for a lot of people. It’s very therapeutic.”

‘But its funny’ (2022) by Truc Truong. This picture: Thomas Mccammon


Truc Truong flanked by ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ (2022). This picture: Andre Castellucci

Truc transferred from teaching into contemporary art, experimenting with textures, fabrics, symbolism and iconography. But racism seemed to follow her — especially as she started getting noticed and winning awards.

“I had a couple of people mention that they’re over artists having to talk about culture. One person rolled their eyes at me and said, ‘You always have to talk about culture’,” Truc says.

It’s a lame argument, but one Truc still felt like she has to defend herself against.

“I look at composition, I look at colours, and textures,” she says. “And just because this material is not familiar to your normalised Australia, everyone sees it as a cultural work and not as a work that is just as valid as all the other shit out there.

“They’re, like, ‘You keep bringing up the past’. I’m not bringing up the past. I’m actually just making work like you – what is currently in your brain and what are you currently thinking about.”

Even during her study, she was encouraged not to use art as a means to make a political message. She was told by a tutor not to tell an audience they’re racist. “Don’t teach through your work”, Truc recalls a mentor saying. Art, according to the mentor, should be made for art’s sake alone. This made no sense to Truc. “I was like, ‘We just live different lives, hey?’” she says.


If this story raises issues for you, call LifeLine on 13 11 14.

To Truc, art is a way to communicate to an audience about the effects of racism on the people who experience it, and to show the realities of being Vietnamese Australian in a predominantly white society.

Truc’s art practice is far-flung, making use of myriad props and objects, spanning sheets of printed Vietnamese characters, flowering white plants and tropical fruit. All of these elements act in concert to become an extension of who she is: a Vietnamese Australian making sense of herself and the world around her.

And though, like her cake-making gig with Winnerz Circle, the meaning of her works are often unashamedly loud, they come from a place of deep thought and inner insight.

“I like making art because I have a voice in it, whereas I don’t feel like I have a voice outside of it,” she says. “It’s not necessarily like I’m trying to shout it; it’s just the voice that I have that I put out there.”

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