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Open Secret
April 1 – May 28, 2023
→ Hessel Museum of Art
Curated by
  • Rachel Horvath-Eboh
Part of
Exhibition Category
Thesis Exhibitions, Student Curated Projects

Opening Reception, Saturday, April 1, 1pm - 4pm
Limited free seating is available on a roundtrip chartered bus from New York City for the April 1st opening. Reservations are required and can be made on this by calling +1 845-758-7598 or emailing

Participants: Nina Valerie Kolowratnik and Hương Ngô

An effective secret is not necessarily fully hidden.

Open Secret exhibits the research-driven work of artist Hương Ngô and architect Nina Valerie Kolowratnik. Following in a rich legacy of artists exploring secrecy and surveillance, Ngô and Kolowratnik investigate secrecy as a tool to advocate for more equitable distributions of power. Their work reveals strategies of concealment deployed by governments to maintain control while presenting how similar clandestine strategies can be harnessed to reclaim one’s individual agency.

Ngô’s installation displays a portion of her ongoing research into French colonial records. Here, the artist resurfaces surveillance documents and creates multimedia works about the Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai. Mediums such as invisible ink honor strategies of countersurveillance that Nguyễn and her fellow revolutionaries adopted to evade French authorities.

The second room exhibits spatial mappings alongside audio recordings, photographs, and governmental records. Collaborating with the Jemez Pueblo, Kolowratnik experimentally charted spiritual and cultural pathways that require protection. Meanwhile, her collaborative maps with the Tohono O’odham Nation show areas where external infringement—here, surveillance and its infrastructure—disrupts the nation’s life and land. Both research projects aimed to create culturally considerate legal materials that also satisfied evidence requirements for litigation against the United States. Evidence that, in Kolowratnik’s words, respects and recognizes Indigenous “traditions of secrecy and instances of silences.”

Striving to avoid an exploitative approach, Ngô’s and Kolowratnik’s projects render covert narratives visible yet undisclosed. Each marks a shared effort to safeguard and empower the histories and current cultures of the communities involved.

With support from the OSUN Center for Human Rights & the Arts at Bard.