Pao Houa Her: Emplotment
Pao Houa Her
Tuesday June 2 — Saturday July 18, 2020

Curated by Godfre Leung

Image: Pao Houa Her, Untitled (Jungle in Laos), 2019.
Download enlarged image.

To support the exhibition during the Covid-19 safety measures, we have been working closely with Pao Houa Her and guest curator Godfre Leung to present an on-line program featuring Her’s work.

The public art project_ After the Fall of Hmong Tebchaw _can be viewed in ten bus shelters around Vancouver from March 30 to June 14. Please refer to the Google map on this page for locations. The eleventh photograph, to be exhibited in Or’s front window, is reproduced here.

Hmong-American artist Pao Houa Her takes a kaleidoscope to photographic portraiture. Foreground and background reverse, alternate, bifurcate, and lead their viewers on scavenger hunts and wild goose chases. Her’s photographs, one might say, are ungrounded.

Over the last decade, Her’s work has explored the diasporic condition of her community, transplanted to the United States after escaping from the conflicts following the American War in Vietnam. Emplotment features new and recent work on the slippery Hmong concept tebchaw (literally land-place, but variously used to denote region, nation-state, home, or homeland).

Conventionally, the backdrops in Hmong portraiture stand in for an absent ground. Most often, they depict opium fields and jungles in the mountains of Laos. But this is not a Laos that one can literally re-migrate to; the backdrops’ mountainscapes emblematize a golden era of Hmong wealth, largely by way of the Hmong’s expertise in opium cultivation, before the Laotian Civil War and the subsequent exodus of Hmong people as refugees.

Green Rush, a new multisensory sculptural installation, borrows its title from a 2017 New York Times article, which coined the term to describe an ongoing wave of Hmong migrant workers decamping to Northern California to apply their traditional agricultural knowledge to marijuana farming. It depicts the resettling of the Hmong dream in Northern California hills previously thought to be barren, instantiating the elusive ground of Hmong portraiture and the kaleidoscopic gaze of the migrant imaginary.

Emplotment is a formal term used by historians and literary critics to describe the foundation of all histories as kinds of storytelling. In this exhibition, it also alludes to the pursuit of tebchaw in the Hmong imagination, the finding of a land-place. As Her states: “The idea of having our own land has been a longstanding desire of older Hmong folks. I want to explore this desire for homeland, to make a body of work that tells the history of the Hmong people, their displacement from the war, arriving and living here in America, this desire to ‘go back’ to the make believe of this country or what this country means, or to remake it in new locations.”

Emplotment is Pao Houa Her’s first exhibition in Western Canada. It is also the first installment of UNSTATELY, a yearlong series of projects on statehood and statelessness curated by Godfre Leung at various institutions.

Pao Houa Her is a visual artist living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. She works across multiple genres and technologies of photography to address Hmong identity and related notions of desire and belonging within the Hmong American community. Pao was born in the northern jungles of Laos in 1982. With her family she fled the conflict resulting from the American War in Vietnam—like many others, by crossing the Mekong River as an opium-fed baby on her mother’s back. After living in refugee camps within Thailand’s borders, Pao and her family were sent to the United States in 1986. Pao holds a BFA in Photography from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and an MFA in Photography from Yale University. She is the recipient of many prestigious fellowships and grants, and has exhibited extensively in Minnesota, as well as across the United States, and more recently, in Southeast Asia. She is represented by Bockley Gallery.

Godfre Leung is a critic and curator based in the territory currently known as Vancouver. His writing has appeared in magazines such as Art in America, C Magazine, and Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, and publications by institutions including the Museum of Modern Art and Walker Art Center. Recent publications include contributions to the exhibition catalogues Tuan Andrew Nguyen: Rung Hoang/Empty Forest and Samson Young: It’s a heaven over there, and the collaborative artists’ book AA4 by Peter Happel Christian and Phillip Andrew Lewis.

This project was made possible with the generous assistance of project grants by the British Columbia Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts, an emergency grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, a printing grant from Tricera Print, the sponsorship of the City of Vancouver Transit Shelter Advertisement Program, and the catalyzing support of Joni Cheung and !Klodyne Rodney. This exhibition is part of the 2020 Capture Photography Festival Selected Exhibition Program.

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Or Gallery

236 E Pender St.
Vancouver, BC
Canada V6A 1T7

T. +1 604.683.7395
E. or @ orgallery.org

Gallery hours 12 - 5PM
Tuesday - Saturday

Free Admission