A photograph of a basketmaker and photographs of other refugee artisans published in the August 1956 issue of Interiors
magazine iterated some common themes of refugee narratives during a decade of significant migration that saw the United Nations sponsor World Refugee Year in 1959. Of particular interest are the ways the publication of the basketmaker photograph helped to demonstrate how Vietnamese refugee artisans suited the needs of an American State Department-led aid project directed by the industrial designer Russel Wright in South Vietnam from 1955–61. The project aimed to export Vietnamese craft to the American middle class as a way to bring South Vietnam into the Free World during the Cold War. This essay explores how the photograph served the American State Department agenda by characterizing its subject in terms of pathos and need. To this point, it helped to allay American anxieties about supporting refugee artisans by depoliticizing the “refugee problem” and resolving it. In this case, refugee photography expressed how the interests of American diplomacy were linking to the American middle class as a demographic becoming synonymous with consumption and whiteness.
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