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Phong Nha, the Making of an American Smile is a story about a girl who was born missing two of her front teeth and the journey it took to correct this defect. It is also a story about cave formations in Phong Nha, Vietnam; a manmade island called Forest City located along the Strait of Malacca; and the famous tale of three prisoners staring at shadows in a cave. Through a series of short paragraphs that permute repeated words and phrases, Nguyen’s narrative moves from her personal life to geological formations to manmade developments and their economic forecasts to Greek philosophy. In doing so, it probes notions of truth and the importance of having a story, whether true or not, to serve as some sort of moral compass.


Tammy Nguyen is a multimedia artist and writer whose work spans painting, drawing, printmaking, and publishing. Intersecting geopolitical realities with fiction, her practice addresses lesser-known histories through a blend of myth and visual narrative. She is the founder of Passenger Pigeon Press, an independent press that joins the work of scientists, journalists, creative writers, and artists to create politically nuanced and cross-disciplinary projects. Born in San Francisco, Nguyen received a BFA from Cooper Union in 2007. The year following, she received a Fulbright scholarship to study lacquer painting in Vietnam, where she remained and worked with a ceramics company for three years thereafter. Nguyen received an MFA from Yale in 2013 and was awarded the Van Lier Fellowship at Wave Hill in 2014. She has exhibited at the Rubin Museum, The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre in Vietnam, and the Bronx Museum, among others. Her work is included in the collections of Yale University, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, MIT Library, the Seattle Art Museum, the Walker Art Center Library, and the Museum of Modern Art Library.