A series of writings in conjunction with Pao Houa Her’s solo exhibition Paj qaum ntuj / Flowers of the Sky, on view at the Walker Art Center July 28, 2022–January 22, 2023.
Pao Houa Her (US, b. Laos, 1982) is known for her powerful photographs focusing on the Hmong diaspora in the United States and Laos, exploring themes of migration, displacement, and social and ecological resilience. Using a formally rigorous approach and working with both color and black-and-white photography, the Twin Cities–based artist draws from traditions of portraiture, landscape, and still life, critically and playfully engaging the boundaries between fiction and reality.
For her solo exhibition at the Walker, Her will debut a new body of work made during the past two years in Northern California. The artist was inspired by a newspaper article on the “Green Rush,” a term used to describe the recent migration of farmers to California that recalls the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. In the remote Mount Shasta area, Hmong farmers have used their ancestral knowledge of highland agriculture to cultivate the mountain’s volcanic terrain. Her’s photographs focus on the much-contested landscape that has become the site of considerable subsistence agriculture and cannabis cultivation following the state’s legalization of marijuana. The exhibition title Paj qaum ntuj (pronounced “paah kohm duu”) translates to “Flowers of the Sky,” a Hmong phrase alluding to growing marijuana. The poetic and vivid quality of this saying demonstrates the artist’s interest in making visible how Hmong language and land often intertwine.