We the People (detail), 2010–14
Few sculptures have enjoyed as much attention and adulation as the Statue of Liberty. It has been photographed, filmed and reproduced, and appeared in innumerable works of art. Yet no artist has treated it as Danh Vo has.
As an artist, Vo explores the themes of physical displacement and cultural dislocation. "We the People (detail)" is his life-size reconstruction of the Statue of Liberty. Rather than replicating the sculpture in a single piece, which would be unworkable, Vo has reproduced it to scale, but in broken fragments of hammered copper. He was particularly intrigued by how thin the skin of the Statue of Liberty is – the thickness of two pennies: “I was interested in how something so seemingly fragile could be so strong,” he has said.
"'We the People' is not about going to the past," explains the artist. "Since it's one of the most important icons for Western liberty, I think that it is very much about the present, and our future,” he says. “I chose the title because the first three words of the Declaration of Independence are relevant and are also a fragment.”
To Vo, the Statue of Liberty has been interpreted and reinterpreted too many times. "I was very clear from the beginning that it didn't need more interpretation." Replicating the statue on a 1:1 scale is, to Vo, the most straightforward way of working with it. He has reproduced the iconic statue in life size, but in fragments. These scattered fragments are now in the collections of museums and private institutions and individuals around the world.
Vo was born in Vietnam, and escaped his homeland in dramatic circumstances. His family was among the 20,000 South Vietnamese citizens who were moved in 1975 to the island of Phu Quoc, which housed South Vietnam’s largest prisoner camp. When the little boy was four years old, his family escaped the island in a homemade boat. They were rescued at sea by a freighter operated by a Danish shipping company, and they subsequently settled in Denmark.
Today, Vo is based in Berlin. He was selected to represent Denmark at the 2015 Venice Biennale and his work has been shown at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Guggenheim in New York.