Works on Paper


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 1/2 x 6 1/2” 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 held 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 which ensued that lead to the development of Mẹ Ơi

 

For We Are Called to Freedom, 2019. Charcoal and hand embroidery on paper , 42 x 60”, 42 x 50”

In 1975, my family fled a war-torn South Vietnam because they believed that the freedom for their future generations was worth risking death. They arrived in America, flourished in this freedom, and since then, have lived with purpose in the pursuit of life and liberty.  

The current refugee crisis has caused widespread panic within the People, and the Vietnamese American community has also been affected by inhumane immigration policies. We have been caught in the crosshairs, fighting to free ourselves from the scope of the powers who, through systematic oppression and injustice, have demonstrated their apathy for the sanctity of Life.

Vietnamese greenfinches and American goldfinches appear and dissolve into the quiet, taking flight from the crosshairs that have befallen them as they are being hunted. And still, they will continue to fight for freedom like their ancestors did.  

The crosshairs, where two equal lines intersect, reference the point at which we can meet to discuss the changes that serve the betterment of humanity. The crosses are placed upon each bird’s heart as a stamp of courage. The word courage, deriving from the Greek word cour, or heart, defines courage as, essentially, what we are with our whole heart.

In hope and in confidence, we stand fast.   

The red cross also symbolizes the faith that sustains us, while also representing the International Committee of Red Cross, the humanitarian organization that was created to serve prisoners of war and their families, and to protect to refugees, those affected by armed conflict, and those assisting them. The red cross also symbolizes the crosshairs that are aimed at the immigrants and refugees that have been targeted, and can also be seen on first aid kits, representing the preservation of life.

 

 

War Wounds2017. Bird feathers, collage, cotton, flower petals, gauze, gouache, Grandmother's thread, graphite, hand embroidery, paper, scripture, tears, textile, tree bark, watercolor, and wool on paper, 24 x 18"

 

I Breathe With You, 2015. Collaboration with Kelly Clark. Acrylic, charcoal, collage, graphite, and hand embroidery on paper, 6 x 6"

The theme "I Breathe With You" touched us both very deeply as my dear friend and soul sister, Kelly, worked on this collaborative series, each of our hands playing a part in its creation. The exclamation “I can’t breathe” was made by Eric Garner, an African American man, 11 times while lying face down on the sidewalk after being placed in a police chokehold.  He died one hour later from a heart attack due to injuries to his neck and chest. A grand jury decided not to indict the offending police officer. “I can’t breathe” has become one of the most recognizable utterances of recent protests against oppression.

While grieving the death of Eric Garner, we also exhale a laden sigh for the countless others who have endured cruel injustices and immense suffering in the struggle for life. Among these is Freddie Gray who died from a spinal cord injury while in police custody in Baltimore. This series also serves as a prayer for Kelly's healing as we stand in solidarity to fight with her as she battles cancer once again. 

 

Beauty Marks, 2014. Coffee, gouache, graphite, hand embroidery, paper, and wool on paper, 8 x 8 in and 22 x 16 cm (View more pieces from this collection)

We so often try to hide these scars, perhaps viewing them as imperfections and difficult reminders of our hardships. But these precious imperfections indeed contribute to the whole of us, and these hardships bring forth the strength and resilience we may have not known existed within us otherwise. Our scars serve as a reminder of our ability to heal, our resilience, and our inherent strength to overcome adversity. These scars are evidence of our will to survive. These intimate little pieces pay respect to our triumph over tribulation, and in them, the afflictions are mended, leaving the scars that we can perhaps learn to call “beauty marks”. They were inspired by my grandmother’s scars which she would often criticize as I sat and admired while grazing my hands over them.

 

When We Became Trees, 2014. Charcoal, gouache, and hand-stitching on paper, 20 x 28” each

I am ever inspired by the wisdom of nature and the way she grows, heals, and embraces her own time.

When the collective rhythm shifts, the seasons pull, and the migrations come. And then they go. As the Pacific expands and exhales at her own cadence, the tides rise and subside, and all that was born of her belly breathe easy for they appreciate that out of this rhythm comes new growth and new life. The trees, too, know that they are on time for their lives. They release their blossoms to cultivate space for new growth, and they rest for a time to gather strength for the abundant, fruitful season that lies ahead. Their habit is always to reach for light because they understand that it is in this light that they will continue thriving.

Husband and wife find stillness in a garden of native southern California plants, all of which can be used as medicine to promote healing. As a canopy of eucalyptus shelters them, yerba santa, yerba mansa, poppies and dandelions cushion every step on their path. The flickers assist the couple in adopting nature’s perfect rhythm. Like the trees, man and woman stand confidently upright and on solid ground. And like the trees, they confide in their own time.

 

Bone of My Bone, 2014. Charcoal, gouache, and hand-stitching on paper, 24 x 18"

This piece was made in prayer for my beloved friend, Kelly, who has been battling and is defeating cancer for the second time. Two flickers, symbolizing healing love, new rhythm, and the cycle of growth, work faithfully together in mending the lesions that doctors found on her rib, scapula, hip, sacrum, and in multiple vertebrae.

During her fight, doctors have marveled at her recovery rate. A true testament to how enduring love, strong community support, great faith, and unwavering hope can move the human spirit and body to healing.

'Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.' And the woman was made whole from that hour.  - Matthew 9:22

 

In This Place, 2004. Pastel on paper, 11 1/2 x 11 1/2" each

These intimate drawings describe events in my life that have brought me to where I am today. Each drawing lead to the creation of the next, just as each event in life leads to another. In the development of this series, I allowed the elements of color, line, space, and movement to speak to one another, each mark responding to the next. The above is a selection from a series of forty-eight drawings.

 

40 Days Has September, 2010. Collage, color pencil, hand embroidery, ink, and watercolor on paper, 4 1/2 x 4 1/2"

September was an extremely challenging month, filled with struggle, heartache, doubt, disorientation and disappointment.  The above works are samples from a collection of forty small-scale pieces, which were made to provide me comfort and understanding of all that was happening around me, to me, because of me, and for me.

The production was very intensive - working one after another, piling them up, moving onto the next, revisiting various ones to embellish, trying to understand what they all mean, all the while completely submersing myself into what they are - my search to make it through this trial, one breath at a time. These journal entries were created during a period when my husband and I were away from home, and all I had with me was paper, a set of color pencils, a sewing kit, and the complimentary magazines which the hotel provided for me.  They illustrate the transition from confusion to seeking, to acceptance and healing, the number 40 symbolizing change.

Through my own hardships, I referenced the struggle of my predecessors...

It rained for 40 days and 40 nights while Noah waited patiently on the arc for a renewed earth. The physicians spent 40 days embalming Father Israel as Jacob mourned. Moses and the Israelites wandered for 40 years before reaching the promised land. Jesus fasted for 40 days, placing his body under subjection to allow the ascension of his Spirit. 40 degrees is also a semi-perfect number and is the meeting point of Celsius and Fahrenheit at -40 degrees.

 

The Third Eye Series, 2011. Acrylic, collage, gouache, and hand embroidery on etching, 24x 18”

The Third Eye series investigates my eternal search for the complex answers to the seemingly simple questions (or the simple answers to the seemingly complex questions) which life often presents such as “Why?” and “How?”

These portraits give recognition to the inherent third eye. Guiding our discernment and intuition, it assists us in the search for answers. The stitching in the work, soft and possibly unnoticed, describes that small, quiet voice within us - that intuition that serves to guide us from moment to moment.