APOCALYPSE THEN / ARTSCAPE NOW
In March 1975 South Vietnam fell to the Communist government. In the weeks following, Huong, a young 26 year old mother with her seven month old son, Gene, ran from the chaos of gunfire and rockets of this brutal war, bearing the burden of the family’s pain. It would be two decades before she would see her family again and give justice to her life’s intention—to release them from the bamboo gulag that had become her homeland. The war had purged her people, her culture, its beauty and its undercurrents would menace several generations to come.
The time is now , and in the cavernous space created by in -terminal grief and loss, unfolds the story of Nguyen Thi Hai. Ten called her “Mang”- Mama. By the time she began her journey the voices of two sons would be silenced, killed in the war. A third voice was also now silent, the voice of her beloved husband, Lt. Col. Le Huy Linh Vu, ARVM, dead after 9 inhumane years spent in reeducation camps and jungle prisons, for having been an officer for South Vietnam. Condemned to this torture by his own brother, a commander of the North.
It is said that the weight of a mother’s tears for her dead child crushes the earth. Many survived multiple tragedies in a lifetime. Lives broken over and over: displacement, loss of livelihood, imprisonment, starvation, brutal indoctrination. These families were stripped of their dignity and chained by fear. They asked, “Are we not human beings? Why do you call us “collateral damage”? Do we not belong to the same species?”
Mang questioned her fate: “We, mothers, each carried our own personal war, but we shared a common sorrow, the terrible price of war. I tell my children to be strong: Fall down seven, get up eight. We will survive because we are forever responsible for each other.”
Huong, now an International Artist and Peace Activist, tells that Mang asked her why she brought the war to America in her paintings.
“It is beyond my understanding why you want those restless ghosts around. The paintings are so real and so sad. So much blood.”
Huong answered her, “I need to show people what has happened and still happens. War is always the same. Just different names. I want to make a statement in my art. We must make changes if we are to survive. And I need to get rid of the fear and the dread that I carried with me. I can paint it away and it gives me peace that I am doing something that matters just as you grow your flowers and tend the earth to give you peace. “
Mang decided that she would join her daughter in painting. But she would paint the flowers. She would never be without flowers again. She would cover the black shadows, the memories of charred bodies, the napalm, the Agent Orange, the barbed wire cages with beautiful flowers and inscribe them with words of peace.
This is Mang’s Opus. And her journey. Once belonging to the community of pain, she would be part of the community of hope. She had fed the earth with the blood of her family. She wanted to leave more at the end of her days. This indefatigable, persevering, talented 84 year old, painted day and night alongside her daughter for 6 years. Despite the brokenness engulfing her began her own healing and help to heal others, known and unknown. “I will endure because I must still care for the living, whether I am here or not, so that they, in turn will care for each other.”