Acting the Words is Enacting the World

From May 17 - May 28 2011, artists Huong Ngo and Hong-An Truong teamed up with EFA Project Space and New York City students to use art and theater to talk about the economy.

Acting the Words is Enacting the World was a two week long experiment in radical arts education which mobilized Brazilian popular education activist Augusto Boal’s techniques of Theater of the Oppressed to prompt students to engage with the economy. The event included a series of intensive workshops, discussions and performances that explored how youth culture glamorizes consumerism in an attempt to examine capitalism through the lenses of art, history and culture.

With current debates and concerns on the future of the U.S. economy mounting in the news, high school students and young adults are faced with many complicated questions about how they fit into this overwhelming equation. While economic issues substantively affect young people as much as adults (especially upon their imminent entrance into higher education), it seems that students are widely excluded and sheltered from the economic conversation.

This group of young people, ages 16-20, used public performance to explore different angles of capitalist issues. Using Theater of the Oppressed techniques, considered by many activists as a fundamental tool in collective organizing and learning, Ngo and Truong acted as arbiters as the students used performance to generate a democratic discussion about economic issues. The students then reflected on their experiences through a collaborative video performance, which was installed along with other creative materials in the alternative art venue EFA Project Space in midtown Manhattan.

According to the artists, “the workshop was designed around two major ideas. First, it took a pedagogical approach that raised a series of concrete questions about the economy and encouraged the students to articulate their lived realities within the capitalist system. Then, it prompted the students to use performance to explore what could be through enacting potential, imagined realities in public spaces. We envisioned it not just as a class but as an exercise in action.”

Additionally, “most of the students were realizing that there were few jobs and limited opportunities currently out there for them in art and design. Most of them balanced school with part time jobs in retail and the restaurant industry. Our hope was that [Enacting the World] would help them mobilize ideas that they could then take away from the experience and use in action in their own lives and the working world.” 

Acting the Words is Enacting the World marked the beginning of a series of projects by EFA Project Space built around the concept of the “Artist/Organizer.” This concept highlights individuals’ behaviors of organization that pioneer the evolution of our creative landscape.

About the students:

The participants were recruited from all five boroughs through high school educators who had worked with them before and recognized their desire for experimental learning. The students ranged from high school seniors to college sophomores, and came from a range of cultural backgrounds and experience with art. Some aspired to be writers, others designers and performance artists. The final participants were: Robert Cipriano, Christopher Ferrieiras, Matthew Kim-Cook, Cindy Liang, Israel Giovanni Martinez, Andrew Persoff, Camilla Yvonne Romano and Evalise Salas.

About the artists:

Huong Ngo is an artist and educator based in Brooklyn. She is interested in how art can offer proposals for more empathetic relationships with the world. She has exhibited at The Kitchen, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the Aldrich Museum, Smack Mellon, the Soap Factory, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the National Gallery in Prague. She is working on a collaborative project among students in the United States and Baghdad entitled Fantastic Futures that received a 2011 Rhizome Commission and teaches at Parsons, The New School for Design. Ngo received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is currently a studio fellow in the Whitney Independent Study Program. 

Hong-An Truong is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn and North Carolina. She has exhibited at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum in Queens, the ISCP, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Laguna Art Museum, Torrance Art Museum, and DobaeBacsa Gallery in Seoul. Recent group shows include Art in General, the BRIC Rotunda Gallery, and DeSoto Gallery in Los Angeles, and the International Center for Photography. She recently mounted a public audio and video installation in Long Island City called Rehearsal for Education, made in collaboration with students at LaGuardia Community College. Truong received her MFA at the University of California, Irvine and was a studio fellow in the Whitney Independent Study Program. She is an Assistant Professor in the Art Department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


For press inquiries, please contact Michelle Levy at: michelle@efanyc.org


EFA Project Space is a program of The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts.

EFA Project Space, a multi-disciplinary contemporary art venue focused on the investigation of the creative process, aims to provide dynamic exchanges between artists, cultural workers, and the public.  Art is directly connected to its producers, to the communities they are a part of, and to every day life.  By contextualizing and revealing these connections, we strive to bridge gaps in our cultural community, forging new partnerships and the expansion of ideas. Through these synergies, artists build on their creative power to further impact society.

The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts (EFA) is a 501 (c) (3) public charity. Through its three core programs, EFA Studios, EFA Project Space, and the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, EFA is dedicated to providing artists across all disciplines with space, tools and a cooperative forum for the development of individual practice. www.efanyc.org

EFA Project Space is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Private funding for the Gallery has been received from Lily Auchincloss Foundation.