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 if the dead are not given a proper burial, their souls cannot 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. The stones, nestled in the tombs and protecting the sacred, also reference 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.