The Factory is excited to announce artist Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai as the winner of our inaugural ‘Artist Excellence Award’!



Giving recognition to one Vietnamese artist, who lives in Vietnam, whose experimental practice embraces unique perspectives – a vision that deepens, explores and nurtures the ideas, people and places it engages and collaborates.


 ‘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


On behalf of the jury, The Factory sends congratulations to all nominees who took part in this inaugural initiative whose artistic practice demonstrates that art today is influenced and employs ideas and skills that are interdisciplinary in nature, involving differing community and expertise in the creation of their art – as such it is an award that also gives recognition to artists whose support of particular ideas, people and place has helped to nurture social awareness of the relationship between culture and society.


Our winner – Nguyễn Thị Thanh Mai – works with materials and memories that prompt sensorial and empathic responses. Whether it be black thorns encased in ice; medical gynecological instruments studded in sharp fake diamonds encased in glass boxes; or ghostly silhouettes of Vietnamese migrants photographed in a rickety boat in Cambodia – in Mai’s work the human body is with physical and psychological significance. Working across drawing, sculpture, photography, performance, installation and video, her art reflects the experiences of various marginalized communities – the war widow, the migrant labourer, the refugee, the transexual and more – questioning the social assumptions that impact their lives. Thanh Mai possesses an MA Visual Arts from Mahasarakham University, Thailand; teaches at Hue College of Art, Hue University; and is co-founder of ‘No Cai Bum’, an artist-initiated, artist-run art festival in Hue, where she currently lives and works.

Nominees for the inaugural award are:

Lương Trịnh; Đức Vũ; Nguyễn Thị Thanh Mai; Tuấn Mami; Trần Tuấn; Mai Nguyên Anh; Nguyễn Phương Linh; Nguyễn Huy An


More information on these artists can be found here with Vietcetera.


Established in 2021 by The Factory, awarded every two years, this 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. Within Vietnam, The Factory seeks 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.

Granted funds for the production of new work towards solo exhibition showcase at The Factory, this ‘Artist Excellence Award’ arose in response to our particular local cultural landscape in Vietnam that is with little supportive infrastructure.

Our educational curricula does not embrace contemporary art (indeed it stops at around 1940, with the exception of including social realist histories); our 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); our 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 we have 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 an arts institution, we at The Factory have asked ourselves how we can promote national recognition for the artists of our scene who we believe deserve broader recognition? What can hopeful local 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.

With a select group of nominators from across Vietnam (curators, artists, historians); a jury panel with international reputation, expertise and affiliations; and generous sponsors, supporters and media partners from within Vietnam and our region – The Factory hopes such diverse community will prompt further constructive and competitive support of our local artistic community.


Please note: thank you to the Nguyen Art Foundation who will host Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai’s exhibition in early 2023 before it tours to Hanoi with ADP. The future Éditions of this award will continue to be developed by its initiating curators independent of The Factory. We look forward to furthering and deepening the network for recognizing excellence in artistic practice in Vietnam. You will hear from us!


Hear more from our Artistic Director, Zoe Butt, and our co-sponsor Jun Tirtadji (ROH Projects) on their work and why such an award is important to them. 



Organized & sponsored by:





Co-sponsored by:



Supported by:

Media partner:

Further details

Criteria of assessment:

  • Vietnamese artist who lives in Vietnam (this is inclusive of Viet Kieu – overseas Vietnamese – who reside in Vietnam)
  • Seeking artists whose practices are more than just studio based; with evidence of having contributed to their social landscape in some way (this is in an attempt to demonstrate 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)
  • Seeking artists who are actively and continuously making – despite perhaps a lack of exhibition history (for Vietnam’s official scrutiny of exhibition licenses are tough)

Process of assessment:

Select nominators from across Vietnam to nominate two artists each: Tran Luong, Nguyen Trinh Thi, Tram Vu, Ly Hoang Ly, Arlette Quynh Anh Tran, Do Tuong Linh, The Factory. 

Jury: Roger Nelson (Curator, National Gallery of Singapore), Arlette Quynh Anh Tran (Curator, Post Viđai), Zoe Butt (Artistic Director, The Factory), Tom Tandio (Director, Art Jakarta), Tran Luong (Curator, Visual artist, Co-founder/Director of ‘APD – Center for Art Patronage & Development’) – see bios below.

Award (occurring every 2 years): Cash prize (VND160,000,000) towards artistic production & a solo exhibition at The Factory

First winner to be announced in August 2021, with exhibition in August, 2022. This inaugural exhibition will travel to Ha Noi, in 2023, co-hosted by APD (Center for Art Patronage & Development).

Second winner to be announced in August 2022, with exhibition in August, 2023.



Who are our jurors?


Arlette Quynh-Anh Tran is an art laborer based in Saigon. She is currently Curator and Director of Post Vidai (since 2016) – a unique and significant collection of Vietnamese contemporary art with base in Geneva and Saigon (since 2016). Previously she was Assistant Curator, Sàn Art (2013 – 2015) and Assistant Curator, Saigon Open City (2006) – the first attempt to realize a substantial manifestation of contemporary art in Vietnam curated by Rirkrit Tiravanija and Gridthiya Gaweewong. Her curatorial practices aim to go beyond mere aesthetic value of art, to consider art as catalyst, which uses visual language to interpret, question, and narrate multiple spheres of a topic. She focuses on collaborative labor, between visual art and other disciplines, from natural and social sciences to business, design and fashion. Arlette has contributed her research and writing to various local and international publications, exhibitions and projects, such as Istanbul Biennale (2015); Hugo Boss Asia Award (2015); 2084 (2012) with Pelin Tan and Anton Vidokle; ‘Digitizing the Archival Materials of Blue Space Contemporary Arts Centre’, for the Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong; 1st World Biennale Forum, Gwangju, Korea; Synapse – International Curator Network, HKW, Berlin; and several solo and group shows for young emerging artists in Southeast Asia. In 2012, together with visual artists Truong Cong Tung and Phan Thao Nguyen, she co-founded Art Labor collective, working between the visual arts, social and life sciences in various public contexts and locales, on long-term, multiple output projects which have been showcased at such venues as CCA-NTU Singapore; CCA Warsaw; Times Museum, Guangdong, China; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; and 57th Carnegie International, USA. Most recently, Arlette has partnered with Eidos Collective to create the podcast series ‘Dispatch’, an initiative to ‘patch the distance’, particularly during pandemic tines, with distinct stories and people, from artists, curators, researchers, collectors, gallerists and more.

‘Tran Luong is an independent curator, visual artist, and major figure in creating space for critical contemporary art in Vietnam. His works are grounded in local experience, challenging socio-political legacies and policies that repress individual expression. A generous mentor of youth, Tran Luong goes beyond normal curatorship, encouraging performers to push the boundaries, negotiating censorship with the authorities, creating exchanges between regions in Vietnam. His moving artworks critique repression, emphasize human resilience, and empower the individual through personal action and self-reflection; for his dedicated energy in developing spaces, initiatives, networks and communities for performance and video arts; for questioning the dominant norms and supporting alternative visions in a context of censorship and conformity; and for his commitment to freedom of expression, community enrichment and nurturing younger generations’ (Excerpt from Prince Claus Awards, 2014)

Possessing an extensive exhibition history, select notable projects include ‘Jogja Biennale 2019’, Indonesia; ‘Polyphony Southeast Asia’, AMNUA Nanjing, China 2019; Chancing Modern/Gang of Five’, National Film Studio, Hanoi, 2017; ‘Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia, 1980s to Now’, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2017; ‘Fragile Body – Material Body’, 3rd Venice International Performance Art Week, 2016; ‘Gestures and Archives of the Present, Genealogies of the Future: Taipei Biennale, 2016; ‘Secret Archipelago’, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2015; ‘No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia’, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2013, amongst others. His artwork has been collected by both private and public collections, globally.

Tran is a founding member of the renown ‘Gang of Five’, an artist collective (established 1993); co-founder of ‘Nha San’ (established 1998); founder/director of ‘Hanoi Contemporary Art Centre (2000-2003); Chairman of the Advisory Board, Nhà Chống Lũ / Sống Foundation, Vietnam (established 2013); and co-founder/director of ‘APD – Center for Art Patronage & Development’, Vietnam (established 2020). Luong is a Prince Claus Award Laureate (2014) and sits on the Asian Cultural Council’s ‘Advisory Council’, New York (since 2019).

Roger Nelson is an art historian, and a curator at National Gallery Singapore. He was previously Postdoctoral Fellow at Nanyang Technological University. He is author of Modern Art of Southeast Asia: Introductions from A to Z (National Gallery Singapore, 2019) and translator of Suon Sorin’s 1961 Khmer novel, A New Sun Rises Over the Old Land (NUS Press, 2019), as well as essays published in scholarly journals including World Art and ARTMargins, specialist magazines including Artforum, books and exhibition catalogues. He is co-founding co-editor of Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, a journal published by NUS Press. He has curated exhibitions and projects in Australia, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Tom Tandio is a businessman and collector who understands that in countries with a young museum culture, local artists often reach both national and international audiences through temporary exhibitions and private initiatives. He has been closely involved in assisting such activity to ensure such talent reaches national and international audiences, having served on the board of the Biennale Jogja, in Yogyakarta; and founded ‘IndoArtNow Foundation’, an online platform archiving works by contemporary Indonesian artists. 

His own art collection concentrates on Southeast Asian contemporary art. In 2016, his collection was exhibited in Song Eun Art Space—a significant non profit foundation in Seoul. In 2018, Tandio left his position as Artistic Director; and President of the Board of Young Collectors for’Art Stage Jakarta’, to become the Director of ‘Art Jakarta’, an annual international art fair with a focus in the Southeast Asian and Asian market, which has become Indonesia’s leading art fair.

Zoe Butt is a curator and writer who lives in Vietnam. Her curatorial practice centres on building critically thinking and historically conscious artistic communities, fostering dialogue among countries of the global south. Currently Artistic Director of the Factory Contemporary Arts Centre, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s first purpose-built space for contemporary art, Zoe formerly served as Executive Director and Curator, Sàn Art, Ho Chi Minh City (2009–2016); Director, International Programs, Long March Project, Beijing (2007–2009); and Assistant Curator, Contemporary Asian Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane (2001–2007) – this latter post particularly focused on the development of its Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art.

Her work has been published by Hatje Cantz; ArtReview; Independent Curators International; ArtAsiaPacific; Printed Project; Lalit Kala Akademi; JRP-Ringier; Routledge; and Sternberg Press, among others. Her curatorial projects include interdisciplinary dialogue platforms such as Conscious Realities (2013-2016); the online exhibition Embedded South(s) (2016); and group exhibitions of Vietnamese and international artists at various international venues. Recent exhibitions include Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber – Journey Beyond The Arrow, (2019); Empty Forest: Tuan Andrew Nguyen (2018); Spirit of Friendship and Poetic Amnesia: Phan Thao Nguyen (both 2017); Dislocate: Bui Cong Khanh (2016), Conjuring Capital (2015). Zoe is a MoMA International Curatorial Fellow; a member of the Asian Art Council for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and in 2015 was named a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.

Co-Sponsored by:


The Chu Foundation exists to help people thrive through education, and to cultivate artists on the frontiers of human expression. As an independent not-for-profit entity, Chu Foundation supports a number of charities and organisations that bring a positive impact to society, including Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, University of Chicago, and Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children. In the world of art, Chu Foundation supports renowned institutions including Pompidou (France), Tate (UK) and Smart Museums (USA). In 2021 the ‘Chu Residency’ at Tateyama, Toyama Prefecture, Japan will open offering mentorship programs, fostering artistic and cultural international exchange. Founded by art patrons Natalie and Lawrence Chu, Chu Foundation reflects their interests and their conviction that education and art can spark meaning and innovation to enrich lives.

ROH Projects was founded in 2012 with a vision to establish a leading gallery for the development of contemporary art in Indonesia and the greater Asia Pacific region. It focuses on providing a platform for emerging artists with alternative practices as well as showing more developed artists in a nuanced and intellectually sound manner. ROH has shown with the most prestigious art fairs in Asia and promotes multilayered international collaborations.

Supported by:

The Nguyen Art Foundation was founded in 2018 by Quynh Nguyen aiming to expand the possibilities for contemporary art in Vietnam by facilitating global exchange that enriches not only individual practices, but engages the overall growth of the Vietnamese art scene. The collection focuses on Vietnam, seeking to problematise definition of identity according to nationality, prioritising practice and artistic concept as defining factors, collecting art from both Vietnamese and foreign artists. Education is the core of the Foundation’s philosophy, seeking to nurture a new generation of art enthusiasts. Through partnership with the EMASI schools and the Renaissance International School Saigon (Renaissance), art is intimately embedded into the daily lives of students, encouraging a high level of art appreciation, especially its social and political context, as part of their overall learning experience.

Co-Hosted by:

APD Center (Center for Art Patronage & Development) is a social enterprise established in Hanoi, in October 2020 with the goal of supporting art creation and promoting socio-cultural development. APD’s activities aim to empower artists through supporting information, media and technology, connecting them with professional partners to open up opportunities for interactive and creative group works. It aims to create bridges between art creators in general with the art-loving public -interdisciplinary researchers, collectors, enterprises, agencies and organizations for humanity, social development, ecological and environmental protection – building a collaborative network to promote the domestic art market. APD also focuses on in-depth research and dialogue activities on the development of Vietnam’s art ecology, in order to provide scientific and objective analysis and forecasts of its growth, providing quality information for innovation in a timely manner to the arts and culture sectors in Vietnam.