From Fashion Design To Alternative Education & Activism In Berlin

Society

Activism, a path not made for everyone but one which can change the life of those who undertake it. Such is the case with Vicky Truong, who went from fashion designer to alternative education and now anti-racism and feminism activist. Discriminating experiences, personal development, and Asian activism in Berlin have driven her journey and helped to fulfill her. 

Growing up in Australia with Asian descent

Portrait of Vicky Truong – ©Aissa Sica

Vicky Truong was born and raised in Australia between the Gold Coast and Melbourne. In 2011, at the age of 21, she moved to Paris. Going to Paris was a way for her to gain work experience in the fashion capital, as she was interested in pursuing a career as a fashion designer. Vicky Truong discovered her interest in garment creation due to a lack of money and urge to be a unique individual. Having grown up as an Australian of Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese descent, Vicky struggled with finding her identity. , She was constantly placed as one Asian among many, eating ‘strange things’, parents with a  ‘funny’ accent, being stereotypically good at math and celebrating holidays such as Lunar New Year. She was othered in these traits that did not fit the nation-state, in turn, became embarrassed of her heritage and did a lotto erase her Asian side. Wearing green contact lenses, dyed hair, tanned and sporty, she was another Vicky. She took it as a compliment when people didn’t think she was Asian. And yet, as she embarked for Europe, her perspective gradually changed.

Exploring new perspectives in Europe

Vicky Truong worked with a few fashion designers after completing her studies and stayed in France until 2014. Despite holding a privileged nationality she faced immigration issues in France and had to leave. Returning to her homeland gave her the opportunity to take a step back from her experience in the fashion industry. It didn’t take her long to discover how problematic the Fashion industry is and how she did not want to partake within the structures that create so many inequalities and negative social and environmental effects.  It’s an industry often criticized for its elitism, classicism, racism and the other problematic factors for good reason. “There wasn’t much I could do at my level to change things,” she says.

She decided to pass a year in Berlin, arriving in the spring of 2014. She attempted to remain within the Fashion industry in the beginning. Though, she soon made the switch to alternative education when a position was made available at an Alternativ-Freie Schule. Vicky was initially not involved in activism but participated in demonstrations and was in feminists groups. Vicky really only got into activism when she organised the I AM NOT A FORTUNE COOKIE event. This was in 2018, after she had launched a petition in response to the offensive and problematic Happy Ending event organised by Koenig Galerie and Dandy Diary that took place during Gallery Weekend Berlin 2018.

Vicky explained to me that the ‘Happy Ending’ event was a very sexually connoted event, reproducing the stereotypes of the Asian woman being submissive and hyper-sexual. The event went as far to offer free massages by women of different Asian heritages dressed in lingerie and cheap culturally appropriated kimonos, American invented fortune cookies, as well as using a Japanese Shunga motif to promote the event and taking it out of context, and all this taking place in a Vietnamese restaurant. Their response, “We want to celebrate the Asian culture.” 

Japanee Shunga motif and leaflet of the Happy Ending event
Japanese Shunga motif to promote the event

She wanted to organize a public discussion with the organizers (Dandy Diary magazine),co-partners (Ngon Restaurant, Johann König, director of the König Gallery) and sponsors of this event, to continue the discourse surrounding the dangerous hypersexualization of Asian women, for one, and the many other problematic white sexist gaze that continues to dominate pop culture. The organizers agreed, but then ignored her, and Johan Koenig simply defended his stance on the matter by stating that he was “only” the co-host.
Not having a positive answer from them, Vicky decided to organize the I AM NOT A FORTUNE COOKIE event to spotlight a range of topics affecting the Asian community, such as sexism, cultural appropriation, racism, and fetishization. 

After these actions and the positive engagement, Vicky wanted to get involved in various associations such as Korientation e.V. and DAMN (Deutsch Asiaten Make Noise).
DAMN is a political, creative media platform and collective for the Asian diaspora in Germany, offering a virtual and real spaces for self-expression  on critical socio-political perspectives and share their creative work. 

This collective was born when Thao Ho, now a dear friend of Vicky’s, participated in many demonstrations and rarely saw people of Asian descent. Thao thought, however, that people of Asian descent would have more than one reason to go to protests. From there, a Facebook group was created and organically, many other actions.

Challenges to be met as an activist

Being an activist is not without its obstacles. First, finding financing is a real challenge. Vicky Truong invests the little money she has in the events she organizes. Though, more recently has been contracted for paid community organizing work and workshops.

As Vicky Truong pours her mind, body, soul, and resources into her activism, she is continuously seeking ways to ensure the preservation of it. “You can forget to take care of yourself when you take care of others,” she says. She also talks about how difficult it is to be a community organiser, as it comes with immense pressure to create spaces that are accessible and relatable to all. Having met criticism from all angles as she challenges norms and attempts to create inclusive spaces, she’s still coming to terms with not being able to ever provide all things mentioned in this complex realm of diverse structured existence.

After having produced and curated the I AM NOT A FORTUNE COOKIE event, WE ARE NOT SAME SAME festival, eight Eye to Eye workshops and many other community events, she doesn’t intend to stop any time soon. 

More recently, she facilitated workshops in Leipzig and at the Universität der Künste Berlin (Berlin University of the Arts), been invited to speak at the Hertie School of Governance and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, as well as in programs for the Robert Bosch Stiftung. These institutions may establish a form of progress in her work, but she’s still waiting to see the changes in all levels of society. 

In 2020, Vicky is producing alongside diverse teams of two festivals. The first one will be in March. With all this said, Vicky expresses her sadness about her relationship to Australia. That one of the main reasons for not being able to reside in her homeland is the everyday microaggressions, racism, sexism, and othering she endured. That it is easier to be an actual foreigner in a land where the mother tongue is not that of her own, than feel that way in the country she is meant to call home. She hopes that her activism work can be brought back to Australia, but feels that the discourse is not quite there yet. 

She is part of an Asian diaspora. Her migration is connected to China, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, France, and Germany. Even though these aspects make up a great part of her, she’s also simply an individual trying to ensure her time spent alive is done with a commitment to actively strive for equity for all in ways that she can manage.