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‘THE FOUR PALACES: GENEALOGIES OF A PANTHEON’ WITH PAUL SORRENTINO

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Speaker: Paul Sorrentino
Date: 09 November 2019
Time: 4-6 PM
Language: English with Vietnamese translation

This special evening is held in association with the group exhibition ‘Singing to the choir?’, with particular reference to the art of Ngọc Nâu, whose works directly refer to the phenomenon of the ‘Mother Goddess Religion’ (‘Đạo Mẫu’) in Vietnam. 

In 1959, Maurice Durand, French-Vietnamese director of the École Française d’Extrême Orient, published the first monograph on the popular spirit possession cult dedicated to the ‘Four Palaces’ (the most significant form of Đạo Mẫu, worshipping multiple deities belonging to the four realms of Heaven, Mountains and Forests, Earth, and Water). In the 1990s, this cult was ‘rediscovered’ by Vietnamese scholars, who used Durand’s seminal research as a central reference and took it further into new directions. They also contributed to bringing the cult within the broader field of shamanic studies and triggered a strong interest among foreign researchers, who were then gradually returning to Vietnam, thus contributing to turning the worship of the Four Palaces into a well-identified research topic. Since then, there has been growing speculation in Vietnam around what has now come to be known as the ‘Mother Goddess Religion’, which also benefited from a gradual official recognition as an indigenous Vietnamese form of ‘belief’ or ‘religion’, a process which ultimately led to the cult’s inscription on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list in late 2016. Today, debates on the historical origins and cultural meaning of the Four Palaces are still going on, among worshippers as well as scholars.

In his talk, Paul Sorrentino, an associate professor of anthropology at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (France), will examine both the rituals of the ‘Mother Goddess Religion’ and the ways they were successively described by scholars (and others) across time, in both colonial and post-colonial contexts. He will also speculate on its deeper history, as it appears crystallised in its contemporary forms. The separation between the ‘Mother Goddess Religion’ itself and its scholarly accounts may then seem to blur, and the cult’s recognition as an intangible heritage itself may appear as pertaining to a long-lasting historical process of integration of local cults. And if the Four Palaces are a system always in the making, his talk as well as some of the artworks displayed in ‘Singing to the choir?’ may well take part in its on-going organic evolution.

Image: Ngọc Nâu ‘She Dances for Desire (still)’ 2017. Single video installation: 5’, HD, color, sound. Image courtesy of the artist.

Participating fee:
➖Adult: 100,000VND (online); 130,000VND (at door)
➖Student (with Student ID): 40,000VND

**Participants of the event allow The Factory and co-organizer (if applicable) to use their images and statements as a documentary for the program, for non-commercial purposes such as archive, press, media, promotion on our website, Facebook etc.

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