Three Grains of Rice and Some Gold

2021 – ongoing

Three Grains of Rice and Some Gold explores themes of loss, grief, and healing in the context of migration and (after)care. The title holds cultural significance, symbolizing a departure ritual that involves placing three grains of rice and gold paper in the mouth of the deceased before their journey to Nirvana. 

This work examines rituals and customs from both the artist’s sinosphere and occidental cultural backgrounds, reshaping perspectives on identity, displacement, and belonging within the diasporic community. 

The recent loss of a beloved family member revealed the cultural diversity within the family, with half identifying as Catholic and half as Buddhist, a result of past assimilation attempts. This period prompted introspection about reconciling these contrasting beliefs. The exploration of various cultural practices became transformative, offering a way to process grief and connect to a larger context.
It is about embracing the fluidity of existence, sharing stories as well as an attempt to break the cycle of inherited trauma.

"Each year, we come together on my grandfather's death anniversary. We prepare a meal in his memory, recalling his likes and dislikes, favorite dishes, his personality... The food is then placed on the ancestor's altar, and we wait until the incense sticks have burned down. Afterward, we share a heartwarming family meal, keeping the memory of my late grandfather alive."

Three Grains of Rice and Some Gold aims to inspire others to embrace their cultural heritage and contribute to collective healing. It encourages discussions on preserving and adapting customs to the present day while fostering a sense of calm, acceptance, and renewal within communities.

Exhibition view, Memory is an Editing Station, 22nd Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil, São Paulo, Brazil, 2023. Documentation: Ricardo Amado
Exhibition view, Three Grains of Rice and Some Gold, Winterthur, 2022. Documentation: Guadalupe Ruiz
Exhibition view, Three Grains of Rice and Some Gold, Kiefer Hablitzel Kunstpreis 2023, Swiss Art Awards, Messe Basel. Documentation: Gina Folly

Ở Thụy Sĩ

2020 – ongoing
photography, book

 MAKÉT 02: From Here On Out

published by Matca

Documentation: Lê Xuân Phong for Matca

Four artists explore what matters to them at a specific point in time, be it a visual experiment, reflections on memory and belonging, current socio-economic forces within the personal realm – these topics do not stand alone but often intersect with one another. 

In fleeting nightscapes, Nguyen Duy Tuan comes to terms with his private grievances and the stifling ordinariness of small-town life. Now hidden away from public view, the animal-infused liquor jars portrayed by Binh Dang are further mystified and elevated into urban legends. A self-described “no-land man”, Nguyen Dinh Phong captures whited-out real estate boards imposed on deserted backgrounds, which then become a self-fulfilling prophecy when the pandemic takes its toll on his tourism-dependent adopted city. Thi My Lien Nguyen attempts to map the Vietnamese experiences in Switzerland, going great literal lengths in search of people and things connected to her home country. 

Makét 02: From Here On Out 
Produced by Matca, co-published with The Gioi Publishing House 
Year of release: 2022 
Number of pages: 234 Size: 14 x 20cm 
Language: Vietnamese and English 
Print run of 500 copies 
More info here.

No Explanation Needed

photography, passepartout, handwriting

exhibition view, Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zürich, 2023. Documentation: Peter Baracchi

The themes I deal with in my art are closely linked to the person I represent in society: young woman, POC, child of the working class and member of a diaspora. For this reason my work is political and I understand my art as a quiet kind of activism. The mediating claim is central to my art practice, yet I began to question my mediator role and connote it differently. To take up space without asking for it. To mediate without explaining; and to endure this.

The photographs show elements of the ritual around the Vietnamese home altar: the practice of care and offering and inviting ancestors into the family and death into life.
The photographs in No Explanation Needed sit in passe-partouts: in this way I take up an originally traditional Western framing practice with which I consciously want to break - through the use of color and text and the shifting of the image sections. This almost hurts our symmetrically trained eye a bit; and at the same time helps to unlearn and re-memorize.

The texts expand the photographic work and play with the untranslatable between languages. No Explanation Needed encourages in a multi-layered way to endure the unfamiliar, to remain flexible - and to find one‘s own explanations.

Bellies to Fill

Single-channel video, 7’35’’

extracts from the video piece, 2023

Bellies to Fill tells the story of the artist‘s mother and grand- mother and at the same time is contextualized by the artist‘s own narration. One sees collected video footage of the mother and grand- mother cooking and preparing food. The found images are mixed with footage of the artist herself cooking and then spending an evening among friends eating, drinking and talking.

The text, spoken and narrated by the artist, on the video, weaves the story of three generations into a touching image, gives visibility to the often hidden elaborate preparations of a meal and stands for the identities of three women between Vietnamese heritage and Western society.
           From exhibition text “Let’s fêtes Galantes” by Lena Friedli 

Exhibition view, Let’s Fêtes Galantes, Forum Schlossplatz Aarau, 2023. Documentation: Peter Koehl

Slices of Love

photography, MDF, steel

There they are, the tables with their sweeping surfaces under the estival trees. They invite you to sit and linger in the warm grass; to exchange, to ask yourself, „What have you eaten today?“ In the installation Slices of Love, Thi My Lien Nguyen focuses on the table as a place of communal practice. The focus is primarily on eating together and the consideration that a meal prepared by oneself can be understood as a sign of love and care.

However, such a place does not set itself up, but goes hand in hand with emotional work. In other words, the kind of work that is deliberately made invisible in a capitalist and fast-paced society - and often rests on the shoulders of females. The artist is now trying to resist this circumstance: Her installation will become a place of rest and reflection on the value of reproductive labor in our society. This is to be made possible, among other things, within the framework of an event in July. During her activation Tea & Slices of Love, the artist invites visitors to the table and serves Vietnamese delicacies, fruit and tea.

Thi My Lien Nguyen sharpens our eye for everyday and supposedly self-evident things: even the simple peeling and slicing of fruit can be an expression of affection or attention and express feelings that cannot be put into words.
           From the exhibition text “Common Grounds – Biennale Weiertal”, written by Giulia Bernardi

Through My Matriarchs

photography, textile panels, audio

documentation: *ALTEFABRIK /Manuela Matt

„For the exhibition ‚Bestimmt‘ Nguyen has produced the work Through My Matriarchs, for which the artist specifically focuses on her ancestresses and deliberately takes the perspective
of children of second-generation immigrants. Three printed panels of fabric hanging from the ceiling display large-scale images of Nguyen‘s family life. Thanks to the fine, fluttering movements of the light material, they create a fluid sense

of space that reflects Nguyen‘s personal relationship to her homeland and origins. Visitors are invited to move between the webs and delve into the subject matter under the impression of an acoustic collage. For this purpose, the artist has created a composition with audio material from her own archive that stimulates an examination of the questions that are important to her.“
           From exhibition text “Bestimmt” by Irene Grillo

Hiếu thảo – With love and respect

2016 – 2020

photography, book, video

In the wake of the Vietnam War, Thi My Lien Nguyen’s family fled from Laos to Switzerland in 1979. The Swiss-born Vietnamese enjoyed a pleasant and carefree youth. Nguyen grew up in the 2000s, the new millennium in which globalization brought quotidian trans-culturality and products from all cultural realms of the world to Swiss daily life. Nguyen’s desire to appraise her cultural background grew with the years.

In a calm and respectful way, Nguyen examines the subtle cultural, national and ethnic influences, which mark her life, putting three generations of her Swiss-based family center stage: her grandmother, her mother and finally herself.

Nguyen asks her two female ancestors in the motherly line about their concepts of Swiss culture and compares these with her own. She also asks herself which Vietnamese cultural values are important to her, next to her Swiss identity.

Like Nguyen, many descendants of immigrants live within two cultures, that of the homeland and that of the land of immigration. Nguyen’s photographic project offers an insight into the life of a young Swiss Vietnamese living within, with and between two cultures. Based on her selection of images from the family album and her own photos, she shows the development of her own family’s post-migration background. Editing images, documents, histories and memories of her own family, Nguyen developed the visual narrative of her photo book, which was graphically designed by Sven Lindhorst-Emme and Mats Sander of studio lindhorst-emme, Berlin.

Exhibition view, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, 2021
Exhibition view, Kunst Halle St. Gallen, 2018
Exhibition view, Kunst(Zeug)Haus Rapperswil, 2018


In addition to the large poster around the book as a cover,
the book contains three individual objects and a facsimile of the artist’s Swiss identity card.

Copyright: Thi My Lien Nguyen, 2017
Photography: Thi My Lien Nguyen
Graphic Design: studio lindhorst-emme, Berlin

First edition of 25 copies
Second edition of 50 copies

sold out.