Wednesday, April 08, 2015

[Lao Artist Spotlight] Sisavanh Phouthavong Houghton

One of the wonderfully accomplished Lao American visual artists of this generation is Sisavanh Phouthavong Houghton of Tennessee,who has had four solo exhibitions and participated in many others since 2002. She spent most of her formative years in Kansas, and received her MFA in Illinois. You can visit her website at: Her official bio notes:
Sisavanh Houghton is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro where she teaches advanced level painting courses. She was born in Vientiane Laos in 1976. At the age of four, her family emigrated from Thailand to Winfield, Kansas. She attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Painting in 1999. Sisavanh continued her education at Southern Illinois University of Carbondale where 2003 she received her Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting and Drawing. She has exhibited her work in solo, juried, and invitational exhibitions throughout United States, Canada, and New Zealand. She is currently being represented by the gallery Tinney Contemporary in Nashville Tennessee. Sisavanh resides in Woodbury, TN with her sculptor husband Jarrod Houghton, their two daughters Zoe and Ava, and two cats Mr. Peacock and Gwen.

Putting her into context, I would particularly take note of background in Vientiane and the Central US. Her MFA in Illinois makes me inclined to consider her work in relation to Chantala Kommanivanh with his roots in Illinois and Milwaukee, and Malichansouk Kouanchao, who has roots in Vientiane and Minneapolis. As an artist from Vientiane, I would also take a look at her work compared to Sompaseuth Chounlamany, who tends to go for more of a realist approach in his painting, and to Vongduane Manivong, who is more self-taught in her work.

I find myself particularly intrigued at the solo shows she's done to date, because the titles reflect a particular Lao Vientiane American humor to them: 2007 Things That Suck, 2004 Displacement, 2003 The Working Body, and her 2002 Smell of Art Through Culture. According to her statement for the Tinney Contemporary gallery representing her, a major thrust of her artistic direction at present are works that "speak about the psychology and taboo of the subject matter "Money" in U.S. society."

Her recent 2014 works are particularly striking. She presents Dwell; Washington Transit; Subway Confusion; and Deadwood for this year. Of course, most of these have probably been several years in consideration and there are others still in progress from that time. It reminds me of how few works are really completed by any of us in a particular year.

In her present body of work on her website, you don't find many pieces specifically or overtly referencing Lao culture although one could make arguments for some pieces or take note of how she handles the depiction of small animals such as butterflies and hummingbirds in flight, and insects. I'd pay particular attention to her 3D pieces in her Insectophobia series.

There doesn't yet seem to be an update on her plans for 2015 and 2016, but if you get a chance to engage with her art, I'd highly recommend it. As we straddle the 40th year of the Lao Diaspora this year and next, it will be interesting to see how she responds artistically (or perhaps not at all, as some Lao artists and writers have suggested is their intention.) There doesn't seem to be immediate information about whether she is available for commissions, but she is presently represented by the Tinney Contemporary Gallery if you're interested in collecting existing pieces from her body of work.

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