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July 28, 2022–January 22, 2023
Pao Houa Her (US, b. Laos, 1982) is renowned for her striking images that explore themes of migration, displacement, and social and ecological resilience while focusing on the Hmong diaspora in the US and Laos. The Twin Cities-based artist uses both color and black-and-white photography to explore the borders between fiction and reality while drawing inspiration from portrait, landscape, and still life traditions.
Her presents a fresh collection of work for her solo show at the Walker that focuses on the lives of Hmong Americans in the Mount Shasta region of Northern California, a hotly contested landscape that has recently seen a lot of subsistence farming and cannabis growing take place there. To harvest the mountain’s volcanic terrain, Hmong farmers have applied their ancestors’ knowledge of highland agriculture. Paj qaum ntuj, the title of the exhibition, translates to “Flowers of the Sky,” a Hmong expression that alludes to marijuana cultivation. This saying’s poetic and vivid qualities reveal the artist’s fascination in how frequently Hmong language and land intertwine.
The artist emphasizes that Hmong Americans in the Mount Shasta region have faced anti-Asian reprisals, criminal profiling, violent policing, and limited government protection during natural disasters despite their success in cultivating crops and creating vibrant communities in this harsh environment. Her’s works create an intimate view of the community and stand in contrast to the media’s portrayals of conflict by giving the actual experience a poetic dignity and a physiological actuality.
The display, which was designed as a multipart project, has a number of brand-new, enormous light boxes that depict the bleak surroundings of Mount Shasta. These works’ presentation emulates marketing techniques and conveys the glowing appeal of a promised country. Tebchaw, which means “land-place” in Hmong, refers to a nation-state, country, or territory. Figuratively speaking, it refers to a longing for one’s native nation and the places that many Hmong people associate with optimism.
A number of satellite images in the exhibition that provide views of the local farms raise issues regarding how governments manage and control their populations. In the gallery, there is a two-channel moving picture and sound installation that draws inspiration from kwv-txhiaj, or Hmong song poetry. This intricate musical and literary tradition is frequently performed in pairs by lovers, friends, or parents to their offspring. According to Victoria Sung, associate curator of visual arts, and Matthew Villar Miranda, curatorial fellow of visual arts, the art form represents a wide range of issues, such as nature, kinship, emotion, and courtship, and plays a crucial role in passing information down through generations.
Pao Houa Her: Paj qaum ntuj/Flowers of the Sky is made possible with support from the Edward R. Bazinet Foundation.
Sponsored by Northern Trust.
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