Savanhdary Vongpoothorn: Aflame

Savanhdary Vongpoothorn, 'Aflame' (detail), 2023. Photogravure, Viridian Press. Courtesy Niagara Galleries.

Exhibition Dates: Saturday 26 August – Sunday 15 October 2023

Campbelltown Arts Centre presents ‘
Savanhdary Vongpoothorn: Aflame’, an exhibition of new work created by Vongpoothorn over a two-year period.  

The body of work draws inspiration from the Ādittapariyāya Sutta (Pali, “Fire Sermon Discourse”) in Theravada Buddhism – a discourse from the Pali Canon popularly known as the Fire Sermon. In this discourse, Buddha preaches about achieving liberation from suffering through detachment from the five senses and mind. The Fire Sutra is a repeated motif in Vongpoothorn’s work, inspired by her family’s experience of the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020 on the New South Wales South Coast, and compounded by further fire, flood and pandemic events.  

For Vongpoothorn, it is difficult to read the Fire Sutra without associating its message with these catastrophic events. Her version of the sutra is not intact but is ‘broken’, hinting at the fragmented access we have to Buddha’s words. Across this new body of work, Vongpoothorn considers the fraught task of reassembling meaning, and explores new ways of expressing the Buddhist teaching of the five senses and mind described in the Fire Sutra. The exhibition comprises a major kinetic sculptural installation, new works on canvas, photogravure etchings and a space dedicated to activities for children.  

Savanhdary Vongpoothorn was born in Laos in 1971 and migrated to Australia in 1979. She lives in Canberra and has strong ties to South West Sydney, having studied art at Western Sydney University and having lived in the Wedderburn artist community during her formative years. In 2022, Campbelltown City Council commissioned Vongpoothorn to develop an ambitious permanent public artwork, ‘Spinning the Fire Sutra I, which spans 70 metres long and 15 metres high. Vongpoothorn’s practice features strong Lao cultural references interwoven with Australian and other cultural influences. Spiritual references are also important, including the use of Lao words, texts and concepts from Theravada Buddhism, including Khathaa (Lao-Pali) protective incantations or spells. These cultural references do not constitute a fixed cultural tradition but stem from her experience of growing up and living amongst Lao cultural, familial and religious worlds, both in Laos and Australia.   

This project has been assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. This project has also been supported by ArtsACT. 


Public Programs:

Project Team
Artist: Savanhdary Vongpoothorn
Studio Assistants: Mary Kayser, Ashley Carruthers, Khanisorn Carruthers & Latsamy Carruthers
Filmmaker: Brenton McGeachie
Electronics Engineer: Glen English
Curators, Contemporary Visual Art: Emily Rolfe & Isabelle Morgan
Assistant Curators, Contemporary Visual Art: Hannah James & Anne-Marie Brockenhuus-Schack
Collections Officer: Sam Spragg
Head of Curatorial: Adam Porter
Creative Learning and Engagement Officer: Timothy George
Assistant Creative Learning Producer: Julia Quinn
Education Officer: Celeste Wrona
Assistant Education & Creative Learning Producer: Samantha Relihan
Creative Marketing Specialist: Monica Lane
Design and Communications Officer: Donna Vo
Visitor Experience Officer: Rebecca Anderson
Venue Technician: Phu Nguyen
Production Team Leader: Brendan Van Hek
Gallery Technicians: Nicci Bedson, Corrigan Fairbairn, David Langosch, Alex Latham, James Lesjak-Atton, Jamie Manweiler and Willa Pratt