Hương Ngô Artist Designed Tote Bag
As part of its commitment to making contemporary art more visible on campus and beyond, SCMA commissioned Chicago artist Hương Ngô to design its inaugural, limited-edition tote bag. Enviro-Tote, an environmentally conscious and women-owned and operated company in New England, produced the bags, which were custom screen printed and sewn by hand. The tote bag, which is gusseted, is constructed of heavyweight canvas in a rich navy blue color. The text is screen printed in magenta and a tomato red. The bags dimensions are 15" x 13" x 4".
Ngô’s bright pink and red design serves as both a functional item and an artwork that invokes the complexities of migration, place, and belonging as it, too, travels. Depending on one’s perspective, the text can be read as “We are here, you were there,” “Here we are, there you were,” or “Here you were, we are there.” It refers to the pro-immigration slogan, “We are here because you were there,” attributed to Sri Lankan scholar and writer Ambalavaner Sivanandan (1923-2018). The phrase connects contemporary migration to the much older routes forged by colonization and resource extraction around the globe.
Ngô worked with Giang Nguyễn, a designer in Hồ Chí Minh City, to create the typeface, which she named Đanh Đá, or “bitchy.” Its creation grew of Ngô’s extensive research into Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, one of Vietnam’s most famous revolutionaries, and into the historical absences and myths that surround her and other women involved in the anti-colonial movement. In a nod to one of the many pieces of Minh Khai’s story that Ngô has assembled over the years, the typeface was inspired by the 1932 cover of the women’s magazinePhụ nữ Tân Tiến, an issue mentioned in Minh Khai’s letters.
This project was organized by Shanice Bailey ’17J, Brown Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Fellow; Emma Chubb, Charlotte Feng Ford ’83 Curator of Contemporary Art; and Justin W. Thomas, Museum Shop Manager.
About Hương Ngô:
Hương Ngô’s interdisciplinary and research-based practice engages archives, feminist histories, and the places where the personal and the political meet. Ngô lives and works in Chicago, where she is Assistant Professor in Contemporary Practices at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She was born in 1979 in Hong Kong, where her family took refuge after the Vietnam War before emigrating to the U.S. Ngô received the prestigious Chicago 3Arts Award in 2018. She attended the Whitney Independent Study Program (2012) and is a former Fulbright Scholar (2016) and fellow at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France (2018). In 2017, the Smith College Museum became one of the first public art institutions to acquire her work when it purchased the video,The Voice is an Archive(2016).