Open Glossary to fill ACCA

Open Glossary to fill ACCA

When James Nguyen migrated to Melbourne from Vietnam at eight years old, his family lived in secret in the annexe above their textile factory.

Nguyen remembers the “clickety-click” of the knitting machines and the “whoosing” of the steam irons. He has loved textiles since.

As a part of Nguyen’s upcoming multi-lingual installation, Open Glossary, he will fill ACCA’s main hall with hundreds of white shirts in a sensory and immersive sculptural work, culminating in a space for the public to consider experiences of belonging and non-belonging from a range of queer migrants resettled in Australia.

In the adjacent gallery space a guard of white angels herald a safe space for queer folk and includes a Queer Glossary; a collective multi-lingual translation project of queer terms for non-English speaking LGBTQI+ community members.

The Queer Glossary, as Nguyen explains, aims to fill a gap in language for non-English speaking queer folk.

“A lot of us are highly skilled in queer theory,” Nguyen told Southbank News, “but it’s all in English.”

“It’s strange that the places where our parents left in search of freedom or in search of safety, those places now have languages for queerness that we lack. In our queer communities here we kind of miss out on all the changes in language that’s happening in our homelands.”

“I think the queer community is probably at the forefront of, you know, language creation,” explained Nguyen.

One of the words in the glossary is a Vietnamese term: “bung lụa”, which means “to spew or drop silk”.

“Basically, it used to be a derogatory term where a person who spews silk is, you know, like a pansy or a very soft touch kind of person. But yeah, there’s a lot of forms of reclamation now where it’s like ‘yeah, I spew silk, whatever!’” Nguyen laughed.


It’s like, we should all be spewing silk, it’s a really lovely image.


Open Glossary also includes an interactive space for young people to consider their relationship with First Nation’s people in contemporary Australia. The “hands-on making-space” invites participants to create their own stories in relation to Sovereignty, the Voice, Treaty and Care for Country.

Nguyen challenges the idea that migrants are exempt from conversations about the future of Indigenous relations.



“A lot of times migrants are excluded from these conversations because we’re told that ‘oh, it was like white people that cause the colonial conflict’, like this is not our business,” Nguyen explained.

“Whereas, you know, we all contribute to forms of racism and forms of colonial violence on First Nations communities. I guess one of the things in the show is just to demonstrate that throughout Southeast Asia, that idea of respect and care for someone else’s country and land acknowledgement is something we’ve been practicing for thousands of years.”

Open Glossary is presented in collaboration with Tamsen Hopkinson, Budi Sudarto, Kate ten Buuren and Chris Xu, and runs at ACCA from September 16 to November 19.

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