The ideas for this series came into being when I was a junior in college. I was reading “Tragic Mountain” by Jane Hamilton. In the book there was a drawing of a Hmong village being pillaged, with women being raped and their heads decapitated and men being tortured. This was a drawing by an eyewitness who saw the whole event. He could not write so he drew what he saw. This illustration reminded me of the tapestries made in the refugee camps during the late seventies. The tapestries, or story cloths, depict daily lives, people running from war and coming to America. These were like picture books without words.
I thought it would be a great idea to use oil paint to continue this tradition of telling stories without words. I also wanted to stretch the boundaries of this method of storytelling by adding my own personal commentary. I gravitated towards oil paint because it was more fluid and easier to manipulate than sewing. In my junior year (1993) I experimented and completed three pieces. A year after graduating from college (1996), I decided I wanted to make a series out of this. I went to China and started researching the history of the Hmong people. I completed ten pieces from 1996-1999. It was hard trying to paint and keep a job and pay the mortgage. In 2000, I received the Bush Artist Fellowship. I was able to spend a whole year concentrating on completing the series. I completed most of the series from 2000-2001. To complete the series, I traveled to three countries, read countless books, and talked to a number of people who experienced the war in Laos.
I want the series to educate the younger generation, to give closure to the generation that experienced the war, and hopefully to become a historical document for generations to come.
CY THAO is an artist, political leader, and businessman who made history in 2002 when he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives representing district 65A.
He was born on March 2, 1972 in Laos as the third child of Khoua Yang and Nhia Yong Thao. In 1975 when Thao was barely 3 years old, his family and many other Hmong families affected by the Secret War, were forced to flee from Communist Laos and relocate to refugee camps in Thailand. There in Ban Vinai refugee camp, Thao remembers fondly hunting rats for food and exploring the mountain when he sneaked out of the camp.
Finally, in 1980 his family was sponsored and able to immigrate to America. Settling in Minneapolis, Thao joined the Hmong Boy Scout Troop 100 where he eventually attained the rank of Eagle Scout. In America Thao understood the value of education and enrolled at the University of Minnesota Morris where he earned a degree in Political Science and Studio Art in 1995.
Thao was spurred to run for political office in the early 2000s, fighting for representation for minority communities, affordable healthcare, and education. He won his election in 2002. As a Hmong State Representative, he passed legislation to erect a memorial on the State Capital Grounds to honor Hmong Veterans of the “Secret War.” He also worked on legislation to provide healthcare for the poor.
After he left the legislature in 2010, Thao concentrated on building his family business. He currently develops, builds and operates assisted living facilities across the US. In his free time, Thao enjoys fishing and spending time with his wife, Lee Vang, and two daughters, Cyanne and Sienna.