Hmong Portrait Series


By Billy Thao

I bought and read a magnificent non-fiction book called A History of the Hmong: From Ancient Times To The Modern World Diaspora, written by Thomas S. Vang. Mr. Vang took me on a journey into the past of the Hmong civilization; therefore, I learned about important figures such as Chih Yu, the rebellions against the Chinese and the French rule, and the involvement in the Vietnam War. The history had a huge impact and inspired me to use my creativity to express the struggle of the Hmong people.

I created the Hmong Portrait Series with black and red ink and sketch markers on white sketchbook papers. I was inspired by Hmong artist, SeeXeng Lee, African American artists, Whitfield Lovell, and Jacob Lawrence. My work features portraits of ordinary Hmong figures like a grandmother to significant leaders like General Vang Pao. The black and white series is inspired by the old black and white photographs, and therefore I wanted to create historical portraits of the subjects. I used red ink for the arms to symbolize hardship, sacrifice, war, loss, and suffering. The idea of the red ink was inspired by artist, Derek Hess, and it is meant to be thought provoking and to create an emotional response of the struggles and battles that our elders and ancestors went through.

Most of my work I often focus on the message. The message for this series is a reminder: a reminder that although I was not in the shoes of my parents or my grandparents, I do understand the history they lived in. I often take it for granted the luxury of going to school, meeting new friends, or travel; but without reflecting on how I was given these opportunities. The answer is clearly simple: if it wasn’t for our parents, our grandparents, our uncles and aunts, and our ancestors, we certainly would not be able to live the opportunities that were provided for us today.

Therefore, I want to dedicate my work to my parents, my grandparents, and my generation’s parents and grandparents for their endeavor to provide us the opportunities to build the future.

Happy Hmong New Year!