Pao Houa Her discusses Walker solo show

Pao Houa Her, untitled, Mount Shasta series, 2021–2022

As Pao Houa Her opens her first exhibition at the Walker Art Center, Paj qaum ntuj / Flowers of the Sky, writer May Lee-Yang sits down with her to discuss her path from high school dropout to Yale graduate, her attention to Hmong viewers, and her newest project, which examines the landscapes of Mount Shasta, California, home to Hmong marijuana farmers who navigate similar unforgiving terrains as their forebears did back in Laos.

Writes Lee-Yang:

Part of Her’s reason for showing landscapes is to preserve the anonymity of the people who are cultivating marijuana–some legally and some illegally–as they attempt to achieve the American dream. Her says another reason is, “I’m really interested in the landscape. I’m really interested in the Hmong people–the way they’re living, just like the lifestyle as it relates to our history–our narrative.

“We are continuously given land that nobody wants and have been able to prosper in those areas over and over again. Marijuana growing operations are also like the first time in our recent history where so many people have become illegal millionaires. [I] like hearing stories about how people spend this money, what they do with their money, and the ways in which they’re like, reverting back to their parents. There’s stories about, like, having so much money that they’re like, burying their money, and I remember my dad talking about my grandfather burying silver bars in the ground [in Asia]. So there’s like, all of these connections.”

Pao Houa Her: Paj qaum ntuj / Flowers of the Sky is on view July 28, 2022 through January 22, 2023.