Bequest enables art commission exploring Vietnamese–Australian perspectives of war

10 October 2019


The Australian War Memorial has unveiled two commissioned artworks created by Vietnamese-born artist Dr Dacchi Dang, highlighting the underrepresented wartime experience of Vietnamese–Australians.

The development of the artworks was made possible through a bequest by retired Major John Milton Gillespie, a Vietnam veteran and immigration consultant.

In recognition of this significant gift and Major Gillespie’s life and work, the Memorial chose to use the bequest to commission work that acknowledges and responds to the Vietnamese–Australian experience of the Vietnam War.

The works represent the first substantial acquisition for the Memorial’s collection from the Vietnamese–Australian perspective on the Vietnam War. These include the first hand-drawn animation in the collection, featuring an estimated 1.5 million drawing marks across 120,000 frames. 

Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson said bequests such as Major Gillespie’s allowed the Memorial to bring focus to stories and experiences that have previously been overlooked.

 “It is vital that we acknowledge all perspectives on the war, and it is thanks to Major Gillespie’s generous bequest that the Memorial has been able to commission Dr Dang to create artworks responding to this important but relatively little-known aspect of Australian history,” Dr Nelson said.

Dr Dang said he wanted to concentrate on the relationship between Australians and the South Vietnamese, and in 2016 began interviewing veterans who served in the war with Australian or South Vietnamese forces.

“Since their resettlement in Australia, Vietnamese veterans’ stories have largely been silent in Australian communities,” Dr Dang said.

“My aim is to create a new understanding of, and a relationship to the representation of, the memories and experiences of the Vietnam War through the tales of Australian and Australian–South Vietnamese veterans.”

These stories have informed the creation of two major artworks, a series of lacquer panels and a video artwork. Dr Dang used traditional Vietnamese lacquer to create a tangible connection with the subject (a short documentary about the project and the creation of the lacquer panels can be found here). The video is a hand-drawn animation that explores Dr Dang’s personal experiences of the war, while also drawing from interviews with 17 veterans of the South Vietnamese and Australian forces.

Memorial curators worked in partnership with 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, a national organisation promoting the work of Asian and Asian–Australian artists, to research and identify contemporary artists working with Vietnamese–Australian stories.

Dr Dang’s artworks will be on display for six months in the Captain Reg Saunders Gallery.


About the artist

Dr Dacchi Dang (b. 1966) spent his childhood in Ho Chi Minh City, and his experiences of the war came from the media and the streets. In 1982, at the age of 16, he and his siblings fled Vietnam, enduring a traumatic sea voyage in a fishing boat, spending nine months in the Pulau Bidong camp in Malaysia before being accepted as refugees to Australia. Dr Dang learned English, obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Masters of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales, and a PhD from Griffith University. His research-based practice has focused on the Vietnamese diaspora and the experiences and sense of identity of refugees. His work has been exhibited extensively in Australia and internationally.

About the art collection

The Memorial holds one of the world’s most extensive and important collections of war-related art. It comprises almost 40,000 works of art in all media, dating from the late nineteenth century to the present day. The collection focuses on work that depicts and interprets the Australian experience of war and its legacies for Australian society. It includes commissioned and non-commissioned work by historically significant artists including Arthur Streeton, George Lambert, Nora Heysen, Russell Drysdale, Grace Cossington-Smith, Albert Tucker, and Sidney Nolan, as well as work by contemporary artists such as Julie Dowling, Shaun Gladwell, Tony Albert, Tom Nicholson, and Ben Quilty. A partial catalogue of the collection is available online at: