Saint Paul Murals Project: The Artists
Vanghoua Anthony Vue
Vanghoua Anthony Vue is a multidisciplinary artist whose current practice recontextualises the Hmong heritage of his Australian upbringing and experience through a postcolonial lens and a critical, arts-based approach. Often employing strategies of mistranslation, subversion, humor, satire, and absurdity, Vanghoua’s work engages with questions of cultural and national identity, place, history, cultural “traditions,” and craft, high art and artefact. He is currently undertaking his PhD at the Queensland College of Art in Brisbane, Australia.
Minnesota Museum of American Art invited Vue to be the M’s artist-in-residence for the Saint Paul Murals Project in 2017. Vue first visited Minnesota in March 2017 for a month of intensive workshops and community conversations, which would inform the murals installed later that year. The artist returned to St. Paul in September 2017 and, with a team of local artist partners, created and installed the resulting works. He led the creation of three mural projects for the M in collaboration artists Xee Reiter, Christina Vang, Melissa Vang, Nicollazzi Xiong, and Shoua Yang. He and his team installed a spray-painted mural on the Jackson Street parking ramp, a tape mural in the windows of the Minnesota Museum of American Art at the Historic Pioneer Endicott, and a series of portraits, which were later exhibited at the Asian Economic Development Association.
Flows of Interconnected Motifs, 2017
Acrylic spray paint on the Jackson Street parking ramp, St. Paul, MN
Photo by Chue Yang
Flows of Interconnected Motifs combines the symbols chosen by each of the collaborating artists. Referencing issues of misrepresentation and ideas of visibility/invisibility, the vividly-colored camouflage background sets the foundation upon which the collaborating artists have overlaid individual figures, motifs, and compositions. Each artist’s contribution is imbued with its own narrative, reflective of some of the complex and multifaceted experiences of Hmong Americans today. Much like the Mississippi River the wall faces, the experiences of Hmong Americans fluctuate and flow as the community shifts over generations and adapts to the various places Hmong people now call home.
–Vanghoua Anthony Vue
Faces of an Expanded Village, 2017
Spray paint and acrylic on canvas, 6 feet x 8 feet
Executed and exhibited on-site at the Asian Economic Development Association
“I drew inspiration from those working inside the Hmong Village marketplace. As I notice the many Hmong mothers who work the stalls, I am reminded of my own mother and her continued work at her market stall of the past 25 years. I am also reminded of the many Hmong community members, the majority of whom are Hmong women, who continue to work at markets in Australia, in South-East Asia, and perhaps elsewhere. Thus, I have chosen to portray my mother, Ue Yang. My hope is that this is not only a portrait of my mother, but perhaps also reflect a significant portion of those in the global ‘Hmong village’ whose actions extends beyond those within their vicinity, reverberating across nations, oceans, communities and generations.”
Xee Reiter began her infatuation with art in grade school and it has since remained an intrinsic part of her creative life. Her eclectic style ranges from lettering and calligraphy to line illustrations and painting, using various mediums. As a first generation Hmong American, her cultural roots can be found in some of her work. She teaches art to youth at the local school and does henna body art at different festivals throughout the metro. Reiter lives in Saint Paul with her husband, three kids, and two small turtles.
“I didn’t paint my brother’s face for his good looks, or because he’s my favorite sibling. I chose to portray my brother, Fong Lor, because he epitomizes the American dream. He works hard as the man behind the scenes. He has taught me that some of the greatest victories are the silent ones you fight alone. Fong is the owner and operator of his own business located in North Carolina, where he lives with his wife and four kids. (The pink constellation behind him represents an actual map of the properties he owns in the area.) Fong founded a record label, Evolution Records, about ten years ago and has since managed the Kong & Shu Project alongside other Hmong musical artists. His love for music developed from a young age, and he continues to play piano for various performing bands. My brother introduced me to hip hop, comic books and art. He reminds me that you are your own driving force for whatever it is that you want to pursue.”
Flows of Interconnected Motifs (detail): Honeybees and Poppies
“Bees are to Hmong farmers as Hmong farmers are to the production of cash crops. To harvest a crop requires time, patience and nurturing. It’s an act of love and a work of art but to a true survivalist, gardening is second nature. The bees and the poppies depict the perseverance and resiliency of Hmong farmers because one would not exist without the other.”
Melissa Vang is a visual artist, photographer, and production/stage manager. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, with a focus on photography, printmaking, and book arts. Her photography was most recently showcased in two exhibitions at In Progress: NEXUS: Honoring the Self-Taught Photographic Artist (2016) and Hmong Tattoo (2017). Her current photography project, F R I D G E S, involves taking portraits of Hmong refrigerators and freezers from all over the world and collecting stories of food, culture, identity, and family. A work from this series was part of the 40th Anniversary We Are Hmong exhibit at the Minnesota History Center.
“I chose to paint Ty Vue, a boy I know, because he is of this community –a growing young Hmong American boy in Saint Paul. He embodies all the stories of the Hmong American experience. He is as important as his parents, who take care of him. He is a son; he is a role model to his younger siblings. He symbolizes the hope and change of redefining what is the norm in our society.”
Flows of Interconnected Motifs (detail): The Healer
“The title of this motif is ‘Healer.’ The plants threaded through her hair represent the vast knowledge of herbs and plants many Hmong women have – something that is second nature, when it comes to healing any pain. I have always been surrounded by herbs and plants that my mother would used to treat our aches and pains. Little did I know, my mother was teaching me as she was taught: not giving herbs’ names, just asking me to grab a couple of leaves from that plant. Now, I unconsciously go straight to a specific plant. When I bruise my knee, for example: the plant I need has thick leaves, white stripes, and is veiny. (That description is quite vague, I know, but I can visually identify it quickly.) Crush the leaves and put poultice upon the sore knee, and the bruise will heal quickly, disappearing in just a few days.”
Christina Vang is an art director, graphic designer, and multidisciplinary artist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Vang’s work is evocative of her experience as a Hmong American woman and tends to be surreal and whimsical in nature. Many of her projects explore human relationships, cultural identity, and reference childhood.
“Growing up, I was surrounded by strong Hmong women: my grandmother, mother, and five older sisters. I chose to paint a portrait of my sister, Khamphian, who was born in Ban Vinai Thai refugee camp. At only two months old, she journeyed with my family to the United States. She was extremely small and not particularly well-nourished, so my parents called on the spirits to help her. My parents feared she wouldn’t make it, but she persevered. She has always been small and quiet in her demeanor, but she is also strong and fierce. Khamphian, like all the women in my family, taught me to value myself beyond what our culture deemed as worthy in a woman.”
Flows of Interconnected Motifs (detail): The Jackalope
“I illustrated a mythical creature, because Hmong oral traditions are rich in folklore. To me, the jackalope represents the white community’s perception of Hmong immigrants as societal pests. It also symbolizes the racial tension that imploded after the Chai Vang shooting during the 2004 deer hunting season. The Hmong are much like a rabbit with horns – they’re perceived as at-once harmless and harmful.”
Nicollazzi Xiong is a multidisciplinary creative designer and visual artist living in Minneapolis, with a passion for lettering, graphic design, and the strong patterning and craft of the Hmong textile arts she learned from her grandmother. True to her Hmong heritage, she likes to convey deep meaning by way of combining symbols, storytelling, and imagery rendered in a colorful but minimalist style.
“Anyone who knows me, knows how much of an affinity I have for my grandmother, Ying Ly. That is why I chose to make her my subject for this piece. My grandmother exposed me to art and design at an early age, through sewing and embroidery. In the summer of 2016, she passed due to natural causes. I wanted to play tribute to her and capture her aura—the authentic side of her. She was playful, cool, sassy, and fun [and I wanted my designs to reflect that].”
Shoua Yang’s work is both a reflection of his experience in the United States as an Asian American and a preservation of his Hmong heritage. Through the process and discipline of printmaking, Shoua expresses the richness of Hmong culture and history through his intricate and dynamic prints that illustrate and portrays elements from Hmong history, origins, daily lives, religious practice, mythology, language and cultural beliefs. Shoua also aims to bring awareness of the social issues in society through art, where he interprets social experience of the United States through the lens of a refugee. By fusing both Western ideas and Eastern culture, Shoua Yang’s work reflects his perspective through two different lenses.
“For my contribution to Faces of an Expanded Village at AEDA, I chose to paint a portrait of my significant other, Song Vue. We’ve been together a little over a decade, and Song is my better half. She is my strength and motivation. She keeps me whole and focused, and is never afraid to be too honest with her thoughts on my work. This is a piece in gratitude for her courage, inspiration, and passion. Through thick and thin she has never stood in front or behind me, but instead right beside me.”
Flows of Interconnected Motifs (detail): Wood frogs
“The wood frog’s capability to survive severe winters is a reflection of the Hmong‘s ability to adapt. For centuries, the Hmong migrated across many countries and engaged with other cultures, spoke different languages, fought countless wars, and faced many challenges. Throughout their journey, just like the frog, Hmong people have overcome the harshest of conditions and adapted to their environment.”
The M’s Saint Paul Murals Project is supported by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as part of its Knight Arts Challenge. Additional support was provided by the Saint Paul Foundation and Lowertown Future Fund, the City of St. Paul’s Neighborhood STAR program, PAK Properties, Minnesota State Arts Board, Sherwin Williams, Wet Paint, Griffith University, and partnering organizations like Hmong Museum, Studia H, Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, and Asian Economic Development Association.
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.