In 1975, many Hmong people were forced to flee from their home lands in China, Vietnam, and Thailand to the United States due to their alliance to South Vietnam and the United States during the Vietnam War. Today more than 77,000 Hmong people live in state of Minnesota with the Minneapolis- St.Paul area housing the largest urban concentration of Hmong in the country.
In commemoration with this migration, the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) has unveiled two new exhibits: the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) traveling exhibition, Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975, and an accompanying piece, Artists Reflect: Contemporary Views on the American War.
As a collection of nearly 100 works by 58 artists, Artists Respond showcases the impact the Vietnam War has had on American Art. Covering the period from President Lyndon B. Johnson to the fall of Sài Gòn just 10 years later, this traveling exhibition encapsulated the imagery of dense leafy jungles, looming orange napalm clouds, and violent domestic protests through works by some of the time’s most innovative artists.
To go with these works, Mia created an accompanying exhibit, Artists Reflect, which tells the silent story of the migration and the memory, trauma, and healing for the Hmong community of Minnesota. Highlighting the works of local artists from the Southeast Asian diaspora, this small exhibit features the work of two Minnesota-based Hmong-Americans: Cy Thao and Pao Her.
Cy Thao, a Laotian-born Hmong-American, unveils work from his 50-panel oil series titled The Hmong Migration. His paintings implement a visual style similar to Hmong story-cloth tapestries and span over 5,000 years of Hmong history. Thao also includes his own personal history in his pieces, including his time as a refugee in a Thai camp, and his resettlement to the United States.
Similarly, Pao Her’s works bring attention to lost Hmong-American history from the Vietnam War through a series of 10 photographs titled Attention. Pao Her’s photos tell the hidden story of America’s Secret War in Laos and the shrouded history of Hmong-American veterans who have never been fully recognized in the United States.
The vast double exhibition can be seen until January 5, adding to Mia’s already comprehensive collection of Asian art, which spans 17 cultures and over 5,000 years, and boasts more than 16,800 individual objects.
Amy Namur is a participant in the East-West Center's Young Professionals Program and a recent graduate from the United Nations University-MERIT and Maastricht University.