Altars for my family, whom I never knew


On view at the Southwest Museum Mt. Washington, CA Nov 3 - Dec 8 2018

Making art is my way of coping with life’s troubling, confusing, and painful parts. It has always troubled me how indirect and tenuous was my connection with my own grandparents, who passed away during the turbulent years of the Vietnam War, before I was born. I often base my method and choice of materials on their symbolic significance to the subject I’m working on. Pouring layers of resin reminds me of the liquor libation I used to pour as part of the feast offered to my grandparents on their death anniversaries.

For the frames I chose wood because altars are often made from wood. The metallic gold paint alludes to the ornate brass candlesticks and censers we had on our family altar. Costume gems in saturated rainbow colors replicate the colorful joss paper we would burn, along with other paper “gifts” of ghost money, houses, clothes, luxuries and commodities for the deceased to use and live well in their afterlife.

Honoring my grandparents in my own ritual allows me an authentic kinship with them, and weaving the rich tapestry of Vietnamese traditions into my modern art practice offers some solace to my confusing position of allegiance: straddling the complicated histories and opposing ideologies of east and west.