Artist Excellence Award

3 February - 6 June 2023

‘No More Not Yet’, the solo exhibition of Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai, inaugural winner of the ‘Artist Excellence Award’, will open at the Nguyen Art Foundation, in Ho Chi Minh City, on 3 February, 2023.

This inaugural edition of the ‘Artist Excellence Award’ is co-sponsored by Nguyen Art Foundation, ROH Projects, CHU Foundation and The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre. The ‘Artist Excellence Award’ is managed by in-tangible institute.


‘Art is a tool for me to observe and investigate myself. Thanks to the encounters … [with] migrants, war veterans, farmers as well as other people who I have met along the way, I have been given scattered, ambiguous fragments to visualize, imagine, connect with and pose questions about history and society around me.’ Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai

 ‘Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai is one of Asia’s most outstanding artists, and her voice makes a unique contribution at the local, regional and international levels. Thanh Mai works in diverse media: she has created art using everything from rotten tomatoes and dried thorns to videos and photo collages, and many other materials and techniques besides. This energetic experimentation in the forms and techniques she practices is matched by the fearless ambition and conceptual originality in the social and historical topics she chooses to engage with in her work. Thanh Mai’s art has shared stories of many different communities that are underrepresented in our contemporary world, ranging from women and children, to soldiers, to stateless communities. Transnational in scope, Thanh Mai’s artworks have been developed and exhibited at major projects in Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Australia, Germany, Thailand, and beyond’. Jury member, Dr Roger Nelson (Curator, National Gallery, Singapore)

 ‘A rare artist who silently makes art like breathing.’ Jury member, artist Tran Luong


‘No More, Not yet’ is organized by the Nguyen Art Foundation with EMASI as educational partner and on display until 2 June, 2023. For more information on this two-site exhibition, please visit:

For more information on the background of this inaugural award process, including full list of nominated artists, please visit:

With thanks to Vietcetera for their initial editorial support of this initiative.




Established in 2021, the ‘Artist Excellence Award’ recognizes artists whose practices have not only produced critical experiments in their studio, but have also contributed to their social landscape – demonstrating that art today is of an interdisciplinary nature and that in the 21st Century our cultural voices matter in ways and means that are urgent unlike ever before.

In our 21st Century world, we find artists working with all kinds of knowledge and know-how. In Vietnam, we find artists working with traditional artisans in the revival of age-old technique and meaning (Bui Cong Khanh); we find artists working with commercial businesses to create artworks that speak about environmental responsibility (Uudam Tran Nguyen); we find artists working with animal wildlife organizations concerned about exploitation and extinction (Tuan Andrew Nguyen); we find artists building space to self organize, to gather and exchange and make (think San Art, Art Labor, Hanoi Doclab, Nha San and so many more) whose committed presence and responsive methods have galvanized the development of a critically thinking artistic and internationally-connected local cultural community.

Further afield, we have artists working with architects (think of Ai Weiwei’s collaboration with Herzog and De Meuron in the creation of the 2008 Olympic Games ‘Bird Nest’ in China); artists working with designers (think of Yayoi Kusama and her collaboration with Louis Vuitton); artists working with environmental policy makers (think Martha Atienza and her raising awareness of plastic consumption on the Bantayan Islands); or artists working with technology (think Forensic Architecture hired by the Lebanese government to visually map the data of a zillion images taken before the horrifying port blasts of 2020) – this list is endless! These are the game-changers of the art world and such interdisciplinary thinking is presenting exciting and innovative artistic encounters across the globe. We, the curators who initiated this award, seek to raise awareness and nurture this kind of ethos – encouraging our community to think ‘outside the box’ when it comes to thinking about what art can be today.

Securing funds for the production of new artwork towards solo exhibition showcase, the ‘Artist Excellence Award’ arose in response to the local cultural landscape in Vietnam that is with little supportive infrastructure. Vietnam’s educational curricula does not embrace contemporary art (indeed it stops at around 1940, with the exception of including social realist histories); its museums are state-funded with little accessibility for in-depth research; our commercial gallery system largely tailors for the tourist market (and thus artists encouraged to create what will sell); its Cultural Ministry approving only what does not go against their guidelines (which are vague and open to interpretation in favour of the State).

But in the face of all this obstacle Vietnam possesses a growing entrepreneurial youth (many educated abroad), financially enabled and with increasing interest in culture, particularly their own culture and its meaning, on not only a local and international stage, but within interdisciplinary networks. Vietnam has also, since the late 1980s, possessed a dynamic and innovative collaborative arts scene who independently support and nurture each other via the creation of collectively-run art spaces, residencies and other alternate models of survival. In the last decade, Vietnam’s contemporary artists have also gained significant international attention. This has brought increased opportunity for our community to expand their perspectives on what constitutes artistic purpose and contemporary practice today.

As a group of curators, we have asked ourselves how we can promote national recognition for the artists of our scene who we believe deserve broader recognition? What can hopeful collectors (who express their desire to collect), turn towards to measure success and value, with such little comparative benchmark in our local? It is within this vein that the ‘Artist Excellence Award’ has been established, to offer a means of awarding ‘excellence’ as not only the skill of technique and materiality (which is incredibly necessary), but to also highlight how the care of stories, community and cause is of equal determination in the valuing of an artistic practice.

For the inaugural edition, select expertise from across Vietnam (curators, artists, historians) were asked to nominate potential candidates; a jury panel with international reputation, expertise and affiliations made their adjudication; and generous sponsors, supporters and media partners from within Vietnam and our region provided funds and promotion – we hope such diverse community will prompt further constructive and competitive support of not only Vietnam’s local artistic community, but within the region of Southeast Asia – to which future editions of this award is desired to engage on a rotational basis.


The ‘Artist Excellence Award’ is conceived by curators Zoe Butt, Bill Nguyen, Le Thuan Uyen and Van Do. It was launched with The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre (Ho Chi Minh City) in 2021 and since 2023, is managed by in-tangible institute. Its founding curators remain involved.