The Colony

Dinh Q. Lê

133 Rye Lane, Peckham
25 August 2016 - 09 October 2016

The Colony is a new film installation by Vietnamese artist and filmmaker Dinh Q. Lê on the site of one of London’s earliest cinemas, Peckham’s Electric Theatre which opened in 1908. Lê’s films immerse the viewer in the desolate environment of the Chincha Islands off the coast of Peru. 

Home to huge colonies of birds, by the middle of the 19th century the islands had become mountains of guano. Discovered to be a potent fertiliser, guano quickly became one of the world's most valuable natural resources. British merchants controlled its trade, using indentured Chinese labourers working under brutal conditions.

Meanwhile Spanish, American and Peruvian forces scrambled for control of the islands and war broke out. In 1856 the US Congress passed the Guano Act enabling it to seize uninhabited islands around the world. Once chemical fertilisers were developed at the start of the twentieth century, the trade of guano collapsed, and the islands were recolonised by the birds.

The islands have not been permanently inhabited for more than a century, but labourers return to harvest the guano by hand every few years. Accompanied by Daniel Wohl's elegiac soundtrack, Lê films from a boat approaching the islands, cameras on the ground and drones circling above to capture a bleak landscape haunted by its brutal past. 

This trailer is also available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube

Image: Dinh Q. Lê, Guanape Island. Production still from The Colony (2016). Photograph: courtesy the artist.

The Colony in Cheltenham

01 October – 19 November
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Dinh Q. Lê in Cheltenham

SOON 01 October 2021 - 19 November 2021
Exhibition, Installation

Dinh Q. Lê’s video installation The Colony will be on show at Hardwick Gallery in Cheltenham.

The Colony explores the effect of the guano trade on the landscape of the Chincha Islands off the coast of Peru, once the location of international conflict over land and trading. With special permission, Lê was able to film the now uninhabited landscape, its colonies of birds, and the workers who return every few years to harvest the guano by hand. 

On Friday 5th November Hardwick Gallery will be hosting a one-day online symposium titled Revisiting The Colony to reflect on the themes of resource extraction and colonialism raised by the artwork. Speakers include Nigel Clarke and Bronislaw Szerszynski (authors of Planetary Social Thought), Jane Hutton (author of Reciprocal Landscapes), and University of Gloucester researcher Jean Boyd. Register for the event here.


University of Gloucestershire,
Hardwick Campus,
St Paul's Road,
GL50 4BS
United Kingdom

Free admission

Open Monday  – Friday  10:00 – 16:00

Access and visitor information can be found on the Hardwick Gallery website. 

Video: Dinh Q. Lê in conversation with James Lingwood

22 minutes 51 seconds
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Video: Dinh Q. Lê in conversation with James Lingwood

Lê describes the history of the Cincha Islands and how they came to global attention with guano trade boom at the end of the nineteenth century. Lingwood and Lê discuss the interest and inspiration behind these films that immerse the viewer in the contemporary desolate environment of these uninhabited islands off the coast of Peru.

This video is also available to watch on Vimeo.

Image: Installation view of Dinh Q. Lê, The Colony (2016) at 133 Rye Lane, London. Photograph: Marcus J Leith, August 2016

The Colony in Peckham

133 Rye Lane
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Image: The exterior of 133 Rye Lane, Peckham where Dinh Q. Lê's The Colony was presented. Photograph: Marcus J Leith, August 2016


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What makes the installation arresting is the diversity of filming. Lê filmed the islands from a boat, a bird's eye view and by using a drone. The drone serves to express that the history of the Chincha Islands should not be ignored and relates to how drones are being increasingly used for gathering information. – Anna Sansom, DAMN Magazine

Selected Press

The work is powerfully unsettling, helped no end by Daniel Wohl’s mournful soundtrack. These islands are so vile, so barren and inhospitable, but they tell a brutal story of economics, migration and colonialism. – Eddy Frankel, Time Out, 24 August 2016
Britain’s role in the Chinchas was shameful: our merchants exploited Chinese bonded labour in mining the guano, forcing them to work in terrible conditions. Animations of the workers’ shadowy ghosts occasionally appear amid the dramatic island landscape and in the now derelict prison-like workers’ dormitories that Lê captures. – Ben Luke, London Evening Standard, 31 August 2016
What makes the installation arresting is the diversity of filming. Lê filmed the islands from a boat, a bird's eye view and by using a drone. The drone serves to express that the history of the Chincha Islands should not be ignored and relates to how drones are being increasingly used for gathering information. – Anna Sansom, DAMN Magazine, February 2016
The mutability of the past is an Orwellian theme: ‘Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,’ runs the Party slogan in 1984. Lê’s apprehension of this leads him to cross threads of received historical narrative and to overlay them with points of critical reversal. The Colony ends as we see the cameraman with his hands extended receive a drone as it descends from a day’s shoot. At this point of casual closure which reveals the film’s production, the author recedes so that, to some extent, existential responsibility for catastrophic historical events is laid open and the viewer eventually feels a reprieve from Kafkaesque anxiety and absurdity. – Stephen Lee, Art Monthly, March 2016

The Colony in Peckham

Inside 133 Rye Lane
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Image: Laura Purseglove viewing Dinh Q. Lê's The Colony, at 133 Rye Lane, Peckham. Photograph: Marcus J Leith, August 2016

About Dinh Q. Lê 

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Dinh Q. Lê

Dinh Q. Lê was born in Hà Tiên in then South Vietnam in 1968. In the late 1970s, his family escaped by boat before eventually settling in the US where he completed his education. He is the co-founder of Sàn Art in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where he has been based for the past decade. In 2010 he was awarded the Prince Claus Award for his outstanding contribution to cultural exchange. Lê’s work has been included in many international group shows including Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany (2012), the 2nd Singapore Biennale (2008), the Gwangju Biennial (2006) and the Venice Biennale (2003). He was the first Vietnamese artist to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010). A major survey exhibition, Dinh Q. Lê: Memory for Tomorrow, was presented at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo in 2015.


Images: (left and above) Dinh Q. Lê on the Guano Islands 2015, photo courtesy the artist.

In the Artangel Collection

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The Colony

The Colony is part of The Artangel Collection. Since its initial presentation in 2016, the work has been shown a number of times including at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham in 2016, Void, Derry in 2016 and Shetland Arts in 2018

  • Artist: Dinh Q. Lê 
  • Title: The Colony
  • Date: 2016
  • Medium: Three-channel video installation, three projections, colour, sound
  • Dimensions: Overall dimensions variable
  • Duration: Various durations
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Who made this possible?


Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F CollectionProyecto Amil, Lima, with additional support from, Catherine Petitgas, Private Collection, New York, Shoshana Wayne Gallery. Produced by Artangel and TANQ Studios, this project was supported by Arts Council EnglandArtangel International Circle, Special AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels

The Colony is part of The Artangel Collection, an initiative to bring outstanding film and video works, commissioned and produced by Artangel, to galleries and museums across the UK. The Artangel Collection has been developed in partnership with Tate, is generously supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Foyle Foundation and uses public funding from Arts Council England.