First Rain, Brise Soleil

Thao Nguyen Phan

Thao Nguyen Phan’s moving image work, “First Rain, Brise Soleil” expands her exploration of Vietnam’s Mekong region with a poetic narrative. The film opens with the fictional tale of a Vietnamese-Khmer construction worker who specialises in brise-soleil — concrete latticework used for shading and ventilation typical in buildings across the global South. In cities like Saigon, brise-soleil connect vernacular building practices and traditional Vietnamese craftsmanship to concrete, a modern material linked to US domination. Through this fictional first-person perspective, the film addresses US imperialism in the region and the 1977–91 conflict between Vietnam and Cambodia.

The second half of the film, set amid the 18th century’s feudal wars, recounts a folkloric love story between a Vietnamese medicinal healer and a Khmer woman. The story unfolds around the symbolic significance of durian (or ‘thouren’) fruit, a major crop in the Mekong Delta. Contrasting Saigon’s urban setting with the deceptively lush landscape of the Mekong, the video addresses romantic love from several women’s perspectives, in a narrative that, like the river, transforms and flows.

By revealing past and present violence and destruction in the Mekong Delta, "First Rain, Brise-Soleil" proposes a gentler view of modernity that embraces the poetry and lyricism of indigenous knowledge and the region’s fragile ecosystem.

To accompany her exhibit, Phan also presents “Interventions on a Typology No.01”, a drawing of Al Qasimiyah School that gracefully binds her interest in Modernism in the Global South with the subject of pedagogy.

First Rain, Brise Soleil