Bleeding in the Gulf
Hundreds of vibrant panels, contrasting in color and varying in size, collectively comprise a 300-foot long mural. Among the most striking images are giant oil-covered pelicans and helpless fish dying in their contaminated environment. Alongside these paintings are passionate hand-written messages that evoke both curiosity and sympathy. Together, the messages tell a story of corporate irresponsibility, environmental devastation, and a vital need for sustainability. “I am mourning the gulf and pray this is not the beginning of the end,” reads one. Another person has written, “For 200 years we’ve been conquering the nature. Now we are beating it to death.”
These words appear amid a variety of other voices condemning, lamenting, or
downplaying the BP oil spill and the devastation of the
At the end of June, the
a brief interview, Huong told me that her goal is to paint history as it
happens. When the magnitude 7.0 earthquake tore through
Words Stand Out
The very nature of Huong’s work opens dialogue between people. Aside from
her personal feelings concerning current events, Huong is very eager to
incorporate controversial voices, regardless of whether she agrees with them or
not. For instance, one panel displays Sarah Palin’s rally slogan, “Drill here,
drill now.” A voice from a neighboring panel asks, “Why did it take Obama 13 days
to show up in
“Fish are the number-one victims” of the oil spill, Huong said, “but they have no voice.” Such panels are strategically placed alongside quotes and slogans to illustrate nature’s silent suffering. On one particular panel, Huong depicts a group of oil-covered pelicans painted in the same fiery tones as the dying fish. The text below the image — “may God help us” — reinforces their distress.
“Can you imagine all
this destruction comes from one well? If oil companies cannot stop the leak, they
must stop drilling,” says Huong when discussing her personal views regarding
the oil spill.
Part of the Whole
Although Bleeding in the Gulf is highly evocative, the exhibit
didn’t do justice to the magnitude of Huong’s work. Only one-tenth of the mural
was on display at the convention center. The other nine-tenths are still at her
Huong’s method is bold and poignant. Her murals represent more than just one artist’s personal message; they represent the dialogue, aspirations, and concerns of an entire nation’s unfolding history. The panels depicting Obama’s inauguration capture both the hope for change and the hesitations felt throughout the country. While some panels question the president’s policies and his selection as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, others express support and encouragement.
The Haitian panels resemble the images of destruction and despair that prompted many humanitarian relief and faith-based organizations to respond to the earthquake. In one, artist Serafema Solokov, under Huong’s instruction, painted a medical official, dressed in white, looking down at a baby cradled in his arms. It is unclear whether the doctor’s grief-stricken expression is due to the fact that the baby is injured, clearly bleeding from the side of his or her head, or because the baby has already died. In another panel, a young woman sits mournfully against a background of rubble.
At the end of our discussion, Huong handed me a marker and asked me to leave a message. On a panel where she had painted a beautiful peace dove, I wrote my message about the transformative power of art. Huong’s art, like the crises that she depicts, require us to participate and not just observe.
Anna Kalinina is an intern for Foreign Policy In Focus