Exhibition Showcases the Devastating Impacts of Agent Orange on US Veterans

An exhibition is currently displaying a selection of C. David Thomas' graphic works which he produced during his recent battle with Parkinson's syndrome. This syndrome has been linked to exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical which Thomas may have been exposed to during his time serving in the Vietnam War.

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Artists at a painting at the exhibition in Da Nang. Photo: Duy Ninh Nguyen
Artists at a painting at the exhibition in Da Nang. Photo: Duy Ninh Nguyen

A painting exhibition featuring works by the renowned US artist David Thomas and the Boston Printmakers, which showcases the devastating impact of Agent Orange on humans, opened at the Da Nang Arts Museum on April 17, according to the Vietnam News Agency and Nhan Dan Online.

Present in Vietnam and arriving in Danang to take part in this exhibition are David Thomas and five artists: Susan Denniston, Margo Lemieux, Colleen MacDonald, Marilyn Mase, and Carolyn Musket.

The Belgium-Vietnam Friendship Association is organizing an event to honor the victims of Agent Orange (AO) in Dong Nai Province, Vietnam. The event aims to strengthen the friendship and international cooperation between the two countries, while also providing local artists with the opportunity to share and exchange creative experiences with foreign artists, particularly in the field of graphic works depicting the pain of war and its devastating, long-lasting effects.Agent Orange is an herbicide and defoliant chemical, which was used during the Vietnam War. The event seeks to provide a platform to send a powerful message of peace and understanding and to commemorate those affected by the chemical.

After seeing X-ray films of his brain, he created visual images of the battle with the disease. Photo: Duy Ninh Nguyen
After seeing X-ray films of his brain, David Thomas created visual images of the battle with the disease. Photo: Duy Ninh Nguyen

On display are seventy paintings that have been arranged in two distinct spaces. The first space, themed “Discovering Parkinsons”, showcases artworks by painter Thomas who was born in Portland, Maine, in 1946.

He is a distinguished U.S. war veteran and was the first international figure to be bestowed the esteemed “For the Culture Cause” accolade in 1999 for his invaluable contribution to Vietnam’s culture. Ten years later, in 2010, the Vietnam Fine Arts Association presented him an insignia “For the Cause of Vietnamese Fine Arts” in recognition of his immense efforts.

In 2015, Thomas was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which he believed to be caused by his exposure to AO during his time in the military. After viewing X-ray films of his brain, he began to create visual representations of his ongoing battle with the disease.

Visitors look at a painting at the exhibition in Da Nang. Photo: VNA
Visitors look at a painting at the exhibition in Da Nang. Photo: VNA

The second space showcases artworks created by 37 members of the Boston Printmakers—an effort to foster solidarity and mutual understanding between Vietnamese and American artists.

The Boston Printmakers, founded in 1947, are dedicated to increasing public awareness and appreciation of graphic artwork, as well as fostering the growth of the graphic art form. Their mission is to promote, inspire, and celebrate the artistic expression of graphic art.

These artworks themed “Peace, Love, and Understanding” will be donated to the Da Nang Fine Arts Museum following the close of the exhibition on April 21.

In her address delivered during the launch of the exhibit, Nguyen Thi Chinh, Deputy Director of the museum, stressed the importance of strengthening friendship and fostering international collaboration. She noted that the event will give local artists the chance to share their work and collaborate with their foreign counterparts, specifically in the realm of graphic art.

It also introduced striking, impactful, and works of high aesthetic value to the public, highlighting the dire and enduring effects caused by Agent Orange to humans, she said.

David Thomas next to one of his works. Photo: NDO
David Thomas next to one of his works. Photo: NDO

According to David, “Finding Parkinson” is the story of his own battle against a neurodegenerative disease. In 2015, he was diagnosed with the condition after exposure to Agent Orange (AO) during his deployment in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. Through his art, David seeks to give the public a glimpse into his own world and the fight against the degenerative effects of his illness.

In Hanoi, the Vietnam Fine Arts Association and the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum are set to present an exhibition entitled “David Thomas and Friends”, displaying the newest artworks of David and Vietnamese artists from April 25th to the 29th.

For more than three decades, David and the Indochina Arts Partnership (IAP) have been instrumental in facilitating cultural and artistic exchanges between Vietnam and the US. Their largest and most significant exhibitions took place in the period before and after the normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1995. For many years since 1988, David and the Indochina Arts Partnership (IAP) has been known for organising cultural and artistic exchange between Vietnam and the US, especially with large-scale significant exhibitions right before and after the normalisation of relations between the two countries in 1995.

David, an accomplished print-maker and art educator, has made tremendous strides in fostering and sustaining activities that have helped to heal and build understanding between two nations with a shared and painful history. Their efforts have been invaluable in creating a better future for both countries.

Exhibition “David Thomas & Friends”
Exhibition “David Thomas & Friends” in Hanoi.

The exhibition presents a selection of graphic works from David’s series of artworks created during his battle with Parkinson’s disease in recent years. Visitors to Da Nang Fine Art Museum are able to view the entire print series in the ongoing group exhibition featuring David and Boston’s printmakers.

The exhibition will also feature the work of 21 Vietnamese artists, who have been invited to participate in art and culture exchange programs and activities organised and supported by the International Arts Program (IAP) over the last 30 years, from 1989 to 2019.

Their relationship with David and IAP went far beyond the artistic and professional exchange; it was about sharing common sentiments and spiritual values, appreciating the beauty of art, healing and building emotions through aesthetics, finding companionship in life, sympathizing with the past, and envisioning a bright future.

The works of renowned photographer David are currently being showcased as part of the “Photo Hanoi 23” – the first international photography biennale in Vietnam, initiated by the French Institute in Hanoi.

Hannah Nguyen