The Cornell Council for the Arts has generously decided to fund my first to-be-realized creative project!

Last name Tran (Ba họ Trần) is a theatrical piece that I began working on since coming to France for research June 2016. Last summer, when I was at the colonial archives in Aix-en-Provence looking at material on Vietnamese students in France, I learned about labor conscription during the interwar period. Vietnamese laborers were brought to France to contribute to the war effort. For some it was an attractive opportunity to come to France, learn French, and earn regular pay. For others, it was confusing: whose motherland were they contributing to, France or their own? Among the laborers were also young Senegalese and Malagasy men who were separated according to their size and abilities to work. After watching the documentary Công Binh, La longue nuit indochinoise (2013) by Lê Lâm, I was inspired by the director’s ability to weave multiple artistic elements in his work of historical narration, as well as by the urgency to capture stories that would soon be lost over time. When I watched the documentary and listened to the interviews, I imagined the laborers’ daily lives and their various experiences entering metropolitan France for the first time.
The theatre piece focuses precisely on these imagined reflections and interactions in a gunpowder factory in southern France, and incorporates elements of my research including the understanding of freedom, the imaginary of metropolitan France to colonial subjects, as well as the interaction among these colonial subjects. It follows Thanh, an ambitious youth in his early 20s who never finished his baccalaurat due to costs, Cuong, a wise forty-year-old who hides his ability to read Nietzsche regularly because of the tensions with Germany at the time, and enthusiastic Loic, renamed from Luan, who is as paradoxical as he is confused about colonialism, communism and all the –isms in between. The three meet at the factory, sharing nothing but their last name, Tran, in common.

More updates soon!