Sisavanh Phouthavong-Houghton was born in Vientiane Laos in 1976 and at the age of four her family emigrated from Nong Khai refugee camp in Thailand to Winfield, KS. She earned a B.F.A (Painting) from the University of Kansas and an M.F.A. (Painting/Drawing) from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, IL. She is currently an Associate Professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN, where she teaches advanced level painting courses. In 2014, she won an MTSU Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award. Mrs. Phouthavong-Houghton's source material for research is autobiographical and stems from her personal experience and an observer of the everyday culture. She is a multimedia artist using classical and contemporary techniques and materials. Her work has been seen in national and international solo, juried, and invitational exhibitions throughout the U.S., Surinam, Belgium, France, Canada, and New Zealand. Most recently, Arts at the Embassy has selected her collaborative artwork with Jarrod Houghton for a permanent collection at Paramaribo, Surinam. Her painting has hung on Gwyneth Paltrow's loft and been featured on Goop.com. She has been published in Studio Visit magazine and has been recognized as a New Superstar of Southern Art by Oxford American. Her research has been funded several times by the Tennessee Arts Commission and MTSU grants. She has partnered with the Frist Center for the Visual Arts' Educator for Community Engagement; the Oasis Center; and CRIT, the Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee.
Sisavanh Phouthavong is one of the first professional Lao American visual artists and educators of her generation. Over 5,400 Lao refugees resettled in Kansas in the aftermath of the Laotian Civil War that ended in 1975. Through her powerful acrylic work, she confronts the challenges of bicultural memory and documentation. She considers notions of the abstract and the concrete for those who must remember both their inner and external histories in a diaspora framed by secrecy and loss. Her work probes what is shared, what is felt, and what must remain deeply personal among the lessons passed on to the next generation as it heals and rebuilds.
This new body of work is inspired by our organization Legacies of War (legaciesofwar.org). Our mission statement: "is to raise awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombing in Laos and advocate for the clearance of unexploded bombs, to provide a space for healing the wounds of war, and to create greater hope for a future of peace." As a refugee, the process of connecting and disconnecting with a place or community are abstracted ideas of migration as an immigrant. The collage and painting process is unpredictable and is an ongoing dialogue about assimilating and relocating into another culture and space. The work captures and embraces architecture and built environment in its state of flux. Teetering between realism and abstraction, Phouthavong folds space and time to connect with the fleeting world. To achieve a kaleidoscopic effect, she employs multiple viewpoints, rhythmic fragmentation, and strong color contrast to fuse both the contemporary and historical landscape elements into one.
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