History Repeats: NYT Reviews Pao Houa Her’s Walker Show

Installation view of Pao Houa Her: Paj qaum ntuj/Flowers of the Sky.
Photo by Eric Mueller

“The trees are so scorched. You can really see that this is not a land of abundance. It’s a land of restriction, of desolation. There is always something uncanny that reminds me that this is not a romantic or pictorial image,” says said Matthew Villar Miranda, Walker Art Center visual arts curatorial fellow, of the photos in Pao Houa Her’s new Mt. Shasta series. “Instead of the romanticized panoramas, there’s tangled cords and irrigation hoses, weathered trees, and it’s much more of a story of survival than it is about white dominance and entitlement over the West.”

The black-and-white photos, part of the exhibition Pao Houa Her: Paj qaum ntuj/Flowers of the Sky, depict the rugged landscapes of northern California where Hmong immigrants are cultivating marijuana. At the heart of the show, writes the Times’s Alex V. Cipole, are both the longing for home and the notion of parallels—or, as Her states, “history repeating itself”—“between the heyday of Hmong opium cultivation in Laos in the decades before the Vietnam War and the current Hmong cultivation of cannabis in the United States, particularly in California.”

Read “A Minnesota Exhibit Framed Around Longing for Home.”