That We Should Be Heirs

That We Should Be Heirs, 2019
Acrylic, Bà Ngoại’s unread letters, cotton grown at the farm from which my husband and his family harvested when they first arrived in America, hand embroidery, holy water, stones collected from the Pacific Coast, raw canvas, personal hand-written scrolls contributed by community members, thread, Pacific Ocean water, and wool, dimensions variable

One of the Vietnamese beliefs is that the dead must be given a proper burial so that their souls may rest. This installation invites participants to bury their fears and burdens so that they might find a moment of rest before marching forth.

In my recent work, stone has represented the weight and burden that we have carried for ourselves and for those whom we love. For millions and billions of years, these stones have endured tremendous pressures. They have been thrust against hard surfaces, tumbled over rough edges, and broken down by violent falls, all to become exactly what they are—scarred but refined, imperfect but beautiful. They are us. In this work, the stones are nestled in the tombs that protect the sacred, also referencing resurrection—that burying these fears might restore life.

Guests are invited to write about their fears, bind their writings into scrolls, and bury their fears into the pockets that serve as tombs for our burdens, vaults for our secrets, or sepulchers in which to lay our pains to rest. Along with a stone, the scrolls are enclosed in the wall that, too, is dappled with scars much like we are.

This installation encourages touch, an intimate gesture of gently grazing our hands upon the threaded scars in acknowledgment of our distress among the many. Paralleling the spiritual and sometimes quiet exchange that occurs in compassion, there is also a hushed physical exchange that takes place with every touch: while the oils from our hands are unnoticeably absorbed by the cotton threads, our fingertips will lift the invisible salt crystals of the Pacific Ocean water with which these scars have been anointed.


Guests are invited to gently touch, and contribute hand-written notes for this installation. The continuity of guest participation is essential to bringing this project to life. Thank you so very much for your contribution.

1.     Write about your thoughts on fear.

2.     So that they will remain unread, bind your writing into a small scroll using the red string provided. The stones will help conceal them.

3.     Bury your fear into the wall.

4.     When you pull out a stone, feel its weight.

5.     Perhaps for a different experience, feel its weight again while closing your eyes.

6.     Bury that weight with the fear.  

It’s very exciting to experience this project in its various iterations!

That We Should Be Heirs at Gould Gallery as part of Memory and Place, University of Washington. We collected the stones from the shores of Alki Beach in West Seattle.


That We Should Be Heirs workshop for our elders at Mount Baker Village, Seattle, WA


That We Should Be Heirs workshop at Harvard University. Participants made personal projects to bring home with them as reminders of their inherent courage. Together, we acknowledged our fears by writing about them. Then, each participant scrolled the writing up into two scrolls—one to donate to the traveling project, and one to take home with them after burying them in small jars, under soil that was collected from the campus landscape.



That We Should Be Heirs writing workshop in San Diego, CA, with International Rescue Committee’s Peacemakers group, a tribe of refugee students who have immigrated from nine different countries. Here we are, handling our fears together.