Mẹ Ơi (Dear Mother)

Mẹ Ơi (Dear Mother), 2019. Acrylic, my blood and hair, Bà Ngoại’s (Grandmother’s) ashes and hair, charcoal, color pencil, egg shells, fractured wishbone, fragment of Bà Ngoại’s unread letter, feathers from Mẹ’s rooster, family photos, fish bones saved from a family dinner, graphite, Chị Tu’s gold leaf, hand embroidery, imprints from flora and soil from Bà Ngoại’s garden, ink, plant material, rice, scripture, stone, tattered feather, Vietnamese newspaper, stamp received from Việt Nam, watercolor, and wax dripped from candle burned for my maternal lineage on paper and vellum. 6 x 6” each.

In the winter of 2014, we gathered around Bà Ngoại during her last days of life to patiently usher her into the next. A heart-rending moment arose when Mẹ placed her hand upon Bà Ngoại’s forehead, both furrowed with the lines that told the story of an interwoven life that met toil with strength and weariness with faith. She mournfully called out to her mother, Mẹ ơi.

These words seared themselves upon the flesh of my inner chambers, and they continue to haunt me still. I absorbed Mẹ’s wavering voice as I sat at Bà Ngoại’s feet, arrested by the lengthening tone of each echoing call.

Mẹ ơi. 

Mẹ ơi.

As I witnessed this intimate moment between mother and mother, daughter and daughter, I ruminated on the expansive love that they had for one another—this deep love that rendered them the might to carry such overbearing weight for one another—the nine months that sustained a hope to bring life and light into our lamenting world, and the boundless sacrifices that followed thereafter. I thought about how the roles can shift as we children shoulder the burdens for our mothers out of this same inherited sense of devotion—this promise of a love that does not boast as sacrifices made remain unseen and unheard.

These works hearken unto the Mother. Portraits from five generations of mothers and daughters within my family comprise this body that speaks on the burden that mothers carry for their children, and the afflictions that their children, in turn, carry for them.

Learn more about the events that ensued which lead to the development of Mẹ Ơi.