In the last weekend of May and the first weekend of June, our project space transforms into a nail salon! This interactive installation is a work by artist and social scientist Pauline Oosterhoff, who has built the nail salon together with Vietnamese and Dutch-Vietnamese nail artists  Lê Đinh Đức, Ngọc Đào, Nguyễn Minh Thư (Ming-Shih Juan), Nhung Bùi Hồng and Trần Thi Thanh Hương. The exhibition shows the charged dynamics between the beauty industry and migration flows. 

26 May–4 June 2023

In this salon, a nail treatment is not an anonymous transaction. Through documentary video and personal interaction, the audience is introduced to the migration history of the nail artist sitting across the table. With these personal stories and intimate encounters, Pauline Oosterhoff opens the door to a larger story about labor migration and its complex  entanglement with the nail industry, which she has been studying over the past decade. 

Nail salons as we know them today are an innovation of Vietnamese refugees. After the fall of South Vietnamese Saigon on April 30, 1975, many Vietnamese fled to Eastern Europe, Hong Kong and America. They opened salons in low-rent neighborhoods populated by migrants and black Americans, where Vietnamese stylists collaborated with their clients to develop exuberant nail styles at an affordable price. After the fall of the Berlin wall, many Vietnamese left Eastern Europe, where they worked or studied. Not long after, salons also appeared in Western Europe with a new, versatile range of nail art.

The work is an ode to the cultural and economic contributions of Vietnamese migrants and refugees. Many of the nail artists Pauline filmed for her research are well-educated or do nails to pay for their studies. After all, the vast majority of recent migrants migrate through legitimate channels. Some are the children born and raised in the Netherlands of the refugees from South Vietnam. In the exhibition, Oosterhoff also draws our attention to the black pages of Vietnamese migration history. On October 23, 2019, 39 Vietnamese, many on their way to work in nail salons, suffocated in a meat refrigerator at sea between Zeebrugge and Purfleet (UK). In the exhibition she asks the public to commemorate these 39 deceased Vietnamese migrant workers with incense.

The exhibition is open from 26 May to 4 June 2023. If you missed the opportunity or want to stay in touch with these great nail artists, pleas visit their salons: VN HappyNails (The Hague), Gala Nails (The Hague), Amber Nails (Eindhoven) en Amsterdam Nail Art.

On 2 June, Pauline Oosterhoff gives a lecture about her research. Together with Matt Steinglass (Europe correspondent, The  Economist) and Đăng-Vũ Đặng (artist) she will facilitate a dialogue about the charged dynamics between nails and vietnamese migration.

The exhibition also contains a work by Dutch-Vietnamese artist Đăng-Vũ Đặng

As a descendant of  Vietnamese boat refugees, Đăng-Vũ Đặng poetically explores his family history through edible sculptures. As a descendant of Vietnamese boat refugees, he recalls Vietnam’s colonial  history and his family’s migration history through edible sculptures. He explores food as a vehicle to transfer love, culture and identity and the act of cooking as a way to preserve. His performative work Consuming Love and Violence/  Sinh Ra Từ Mảnh Vỡ (Born From Shards), which is on show, consists of pandan-coconut and coffee-condensed milk flavored jellies that he will cook and cast on site. By replicating shards of a war-damaged Nguyễn-dynasty imperial  tomb in the flavors of his youth, he invites the audience to eat and converse with him. By doing so he aims to invoke compassion for the violent conditions that force refugees to flee their country. 

Kindly supported by Creative Industries Fund NL and Gemeente Den Haag.