Press Release: The Hmong Migration

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

March 31, 2004


“The Hmong Migration” Paintings by Cy Thao

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts May 21–July 11, 2004

Minneapolis—The Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts presents an epic journey in the exhibition “The Hmong Migration.” Opening May 21, the exhibition features a series of fifty oil paintings by artist and political leader Cy Thao. The paintings recount five thousand years of Hmong history, from life in southern China and the mountains of Laos to refugee camps in Thailand and resettlement in the United States. Expressing the artist’s underlying hope for healing and closure, these unique paintings portray the stories of his family and others who have experienced the atrocities of war.

Thao paints in a very consistent pictorial style that evokes Hmong story quilts. The detailed visual cues he uses are straightforward, almost schematic. Meanwhile, his images always reveal some form of interaction between figures. The two-dimensional quality of his landscapes belies an often harrowing and tragic episode, such as the massacre of Hmong villages by communist soldiers during the “Secret War” in Laos.

Born in 1972, Thao is an artist, teacher, and political leader currently serving as a representative in the Minnesota State Legislature. Thao was awarded a Bush Artist Fellowship in 2000. The fellowship allowed him to visit China, Laos, and Thailand, where he interviewed other Hmong who experienced war in Laos. The fellowship and research made it possible for Thao to complete his series of oil paintings on the Hmong migration. Brief commentaries by the artist help to provide a context for his telling of the story.

With his most prominent venue to date, Thao views this exhibition as an opportunity to share the Hmong story with a broader audience. “The more we know about each other, the more we will not be afraid,” says Thao, who has lived in St. Paul since 1980. Some have inquired about purchasing individual pieces, yet the artist chooses to keep the series intact. Thao’s purpose in doing this is to secure a permanent home for the series so that it will be available to view in its entirety for years to come.

“The Hmong Migration” opening reception will be held Thursday, May 20, from 7 to 9 p.m. An artist-led public tour will take place on Sunday, June 6, at 3 p.m., in the Minnesota Artists Gallery at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. On Sunday, June 27, at 3 p.m., the Critics’ Trialogue will feature art critic Tom O’Sullivan Co-sponsored by the Visual Art Critics Union of Minnesota (V.A.C.U.M.), the Critics’ Trialogue series is designed to bring together critics, artists, and the public in a gallery setting for a three-way conversation about the creative possibilities of criticism. The exhibition, the reception, and the Trialogue are free and open to the public.

“The Hmong Migration” is produced and presented by the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP), an artist-managed curatorial department of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and is made possible by generous support from Jerome Foundation.

About The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Ranked among the top ten comprehensive U.S. art museums, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is dedicated to bringing art to life for everyone. In a beautiful landmark building near downtown Minneapolis, the museum houses over 100,000 works of art, representing more than 5,000 years of world history. General admission is always free. Some special exhibitions have a nominal admission fee. Museum Hours: Sunday: 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday: 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Closed Monday. Please leave plenty of time to arrive, as our campus is under construction as part of our exciting expansion project. For additional information, call (612) 870-3131 or visit