‘Savoring the Mango’

with Three Dinh

Three Dinh’s artwork oozes a sense of unapologetic self-expression that makes sense when you find how dynamic of an upbringing and experience she has had in her life. She was born in New York and lived in New Jersey before eventually landing in rural Georgia, where her peers weren’t exactly kind to her due to her cultural background. However, this never made her ashamed of her Vietnamese heritage nor hesitant to let her unique voice be heard through her artwork. Now in her second year at UGA, she aims to keep using her experiences to fuel her creativity as an independent artist.

Three’s parents are immigrants from Vietnam and have fostered her aptitude for art from a young age. “My parents were always the type of people that were like ‘as long as you’re learning a new skill, we’re going to promote it in any way possible.’” Three was always receiving art supplies from her parents, such as her dad’s cameras from Vietnam, which he had to acquire illegally at the time. Three also has a complex relationship with her mother, a relationship that she cites as one of her biggest inspirations for her work. Three’s mother left her life as a skilled seamstress in Vietnam to come to America and start a new life, which she admires.

But family is complicated, and their relationship has been strained in the past. However, that has only deepened Three’s work. “I draw a lot of inspiration from her, like who I could possibly be and who I am. There’s also a lot of guilt there though… Because I don’t have the best relationship with her. I think admiration and guilt are the two emotions I try to channel (in my art) because of her.” In fact, Three shared that she is finishing up her current project; a collage that will be a tribute to her Vietnamese heritage, paying homage to some key figures in her life such as her mother and grandmother, as well as highlighting aspects of Vietnamese culture that get overshadowed by white voices retelling stories from the Vietnam War.

Starting out, Three’s goal with art was short and sweet. “I just wanted to make stuff that looked cool. And I wanted to share it all the time.” Seems like a good philosophy to have as a young artist. But Three’s approach has changed, and she now values the intimacy she has with her art, sometimes withholding some of her best work simply because she values what it means to her. And she’s totally okay with that. “Now, even though I do still share my art, it’s for me. So a lot of the stuff I really really love, like photographs, I’ve never shared with anyone.”

Three has explored a broad range of artistic mediums, including costume and set design for theatre productions in high school, collaging, photography, and she has even added a studio art minor while in school at UGA. However, her favorite medium is good old-fashioned paper and pencil, because of the creative freedom it gives her. “I think it’s really intimate and doesn’t have to be super serious… it’s very messy.” However, even with a wide range of artistic skills in her arsenal, she still says she experiences imposter syndrome that pushes her to be brutally honest with her art. “Sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh, this isn’t actually art. But on the flip side, it’s also like I can do whatever I want… Sometimes it’s really really good, and sometimes it’s really really shitty. I think that’s a good representation of me.”

The highlight of Three’s portfolio up to this point was a perfect example of her creative process. Tasked with writing a ten-minute screenplay for a dramatic writing class during the COVID lockdown, she was feeling a bit stuck. “I was obsessed. Like it consumed my every waking moment… But I remember writing it and being like, ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever written in my life. And then I broke down, like literally lost my mind. Cut my hair. I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’” But, she found her creative spark in an unsuspecting manner in the form of a childhood favorite show, “Julian the Phantom.” In a particular scene, a character was giving a eulogy to her dead mom in the form of a song, and that’s when it clicked. “I don’t know what happened, but she was mid-singing the song and I was like ‘I know exactly what I need to do.’” Three finished her screenplay, turned it in, and the next thing she knows, her screenplay got chosen by the Georgia Film Association as the winner from her entire school.

If Three could be a bug on a piece of fruit, she’d be a caterpillar on a particularly crunchy mango, because “the soft ones are nice, right? But the crunchy ones are harder to eat, so you can enjoy it longer.” She noted that she would also not be just any caterpillar, but one on the cusp of becoming a butterfly because she’s in a constant state of change at this point in her life. “I’m about to go through a transition, a big one in my life. So why not savor the mango?”

interview by Sam Patterson