As Vietnamese-Australian artist Andy Mullens explains, the ‘why’ she makes art is not something she consciously considers; it is just her language, the way she interacts with and interprets the world.

Weaving together narratives of cultural identity and memory, Andy’s practice is often pre-occupied with exploring her Vietnamese heritage, through painstakingly delicate installations of found objects, photography and textiles. Her work Bloodlines explores the displacement caused by the Vietnam war. She collected hundreds of photographs left behind by families fleeing the country and maps them together in an intimate web of red yarn; which holds far more stories of love and loss than our imaginations can possibly comprehend.

It is this emphatic and powerful approach to her practice that has garnered Andy all the right kinds of attention, including being named the Yen artist of the year in 2016 plus a swag of exhibitions, awards and residencies. Andy’s work is being exhibited among three other female artists at ANTHROPOCENE,  at AirSpace Projects from 3-18 March.


our work Bloodlines is an intimate exploration of displacement caused by the Vietnam War, weaving together hundreds of photographs that were left behind by families fleeing the country or being forcibly removed. Could you please tell why you were interested in exploring this concept?

I’m interested in looking at these narratives for two outstanding reasons, the first being reconciling with my family history and realigning myself as a Vietnamese-Australian, and the second being that I believe this relates to a larger conversation about immigration, refugees and cultural identity that I think is crucial – particularly now with contemporary attitudes towards this subject in Australia and the world. It became something that I knew I needed to explore a few years ago, as it had always been under the surface. The more I talked to people, first and second generation Australians, I realised this is part of a larger picture. The photographs were a huge part of this story as they are imbued with such sadness and trauma, and were a metaphor in themselves about displacement and loss.


The use of thread tying the photos together is quite poetic. Could you please tell us why you decided to use this material in this way?

The thread relates to the title, Bloodlines, as these are my kin, my people, and my heritage. We are tied together by blood. The thread draws connections between the photographs as if it were a chaotic family tree. There’s connection and disconnection between the found photographs and the single photograph I include of my family. I use thread in this work as we use thread to repair broken garments; just as I am seeking to mend the gaps in my cultural identity.

“I use thread in this work as we use thread to repair broken garments; just as I am seeking to mend the gaps in my cultural identity.”

From left:

Half Way Home – Inkjet Print, 59.4 x 42 cm, 2011, courtesy of the Artist

Recollect – Hand-bound book, 2013, courtesy of the Artist


imilarly, your work Face to Face brings together an assemblage of photographs of faces – namely faces from your mother’s family. On your website, it mentions that you delved into the family history during this process. What was the most interesting or poignant thing you discovered?

There were so many interesting and important things I learned during that process. That artwork in particular lead me to many stories about my family. I listened to my mother speak about their home life, their journey from Vietnam to Australia, how my grandfather spent 4 years in prison because he was suspected of being a spy, about my family adjusting to a new life in Australia. I think it was all a big-picture sense of discovery because I felt like I began to understand. It gave me so much appreciation of everything they’ve been though, and such a huge respect for their strength, perseverance and determination.


What motivates you to keep making art?

There are things I wish to speak about and creating art is a way that I communicate those things. I think art holds a lot of power in the way that it can connect with people, and there are conversations I want to be a part of. Sometimes it doesn’t quite feel like a “why do I make” – it’s already there in me as my way of working things out. This is my language, this is my way of being in this world. I think the role of art is so important in life and I feel lucky to be able to contribute to that.


What does 2017 hold for you?

A solo exhibition at Gaffa Gallery in November. A new job. I’ve started my Masters degree. I’ve begun life modeling. A cheeky bit of travel. A huge reading list. Many huge, lovely, exciting things!

“Sometimes it doesn’t quite feel like a “why do I make” – it’s already there in me as my way of working things out. This is my language, this is my way of being in this world.”


Face to Face – Inkjet prints on perspex, 2014, courtesy of the Artist


Favourite book? Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke is the fiction book I am spruiking to people at the moment. I’ve been making an effort to read more female authors, particularly women of colour, and so far Clarke’s collection of short stories has struck me as my favourite as she covers so much ground.

Favourite film?  It’s a tie: Sister Act 1 and Sister Act 2. I mean, Lost In Translation is up there, but the other two films I could just watch over and over.

Favourite band / musician? Beyonce. Always Beyonce.

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? My parents wanted me to be a lawyer, and even during my time at art school they kept hinting at it. Does that mean I would have become one if I wasn’t an artist? Maybe. I think the idea of sparking change through my work translates if I were to be a lawyer, but I have such a hard time picturing myself outside of being an artist.

If you could change one thing about the world today what would it be?  Compassion. I think it’s easy to get lost in the fear and the busy and to disconnect. I see compassion as a gateway for connection: treating others with respect and understanding, taking care of the earth, and being kind to ourselves too.