The immigrant story is one of struggle, challenges, aspirations and dreams. Boston is full of these stories in every neighborhood, from Back Bay to Boston's biggest neighborhood -- Dorchester. Artist Ngoc-Tran Vu, who goes by Tran, captured the turbulence and beauty contained in the stories of the Vietnamese people of Dorchester in a special way: A mural created in collaboration with the community.
“I was seeing a lack of art in Dorchester,” Tran explains. She was very aware of the long history of the Vietnamese community in the area, and felt that those two areas of interest could be combined. “I started thinking about the changing in the landscape, and how do we hang on to the histories and stories and narrative, and that’s when I really saw this important need for art.”
Ngoc-Tran Vu is a Dorchester native, artist and community organizer heading the mural project. More public and inclusive art in Dorchester has always been something for which Vu strived, but a concrete plan arose when she met Tam Le, another artist and local entrepreneur.
Dorchester is already known throughout Massachusetts as the neighborhood in Boston with the largest diversity of residents, however not many realize that a significant percentage of that diversity is Vietnamese. In fact, Fields Corner in Dorchester has even been recognized as “the heart of the Vietnamese community in Boston.” As the immigrant population continues to grow in Dorchester, there are many residents, such as local Dorchester artist and youth organizer Tran Vu, who seek to unite the Vietnamese people with every other group in the community.
Ngoc-Tran Vu, a multimedia artist who is best known as “Tran,” has won a $10,000 grant to design and paint a permanent mural celebrating Vietnamese culture in Fields Corner. The artwork will adorn the side of the Pho Hoa restaurant across from Dot House Health and is scheduled to be completed by this fall.
“I feel honored, excited, proud,” Le told the Reporter. “Honored that Tran has decided to use our wall to create what we anticipate to be a beautiful homage to our heritage and community, excited to see the community come together to share the experience of the creation of the piece, proud of Tran and her dedication to the Vietnamese community. I could not think of a more fitting person nor a more fitting medium to achieve this than Tran’s mural,” he said.
Vu is collecting the experiences of immigrants like her own family in the first project of its kind to focus on one of the Boston area’s largest and most overlooked refugee groups. She is facilitating the recording of oral histories of both the Vietnamese diaspora in the U.S., and American veterans of the Vietnam War, to create an oral history of their journeys that will be stored at the Library of Congress.
Her work is part of public’s television’s American Experience, and was born out of “Last Days in Vietnam,” an Oscar-nominated documentary that chronicles the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War, and was directed by Rory Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy’s youngest daughter.
The ExpressingBoston Public Art Fellowship is a nine-month fellowship funded through the Boston Foundation with creative leadership by Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI) focused on fostering a community of practice for those engaging in innovative public art. The ten 2014 fellows represent a cross-section of artists predominantly from the neighborhoods along the Fairmount Cultural Corridor and will produce public art along the Fairmount Line. This fellowship supports artists in thinking through and testing new ways to do their art practice in public spaces, in ways that increase the authority that artists and community members feel to activate public spaces in their neighborhoods.
As 2013-14 IA/JGS Fellows, ten publicly engaged students of photography and digital media participated in a yearlong working group. Each month, the Fellows convened virtually to delve into topics related to their artistic practice, academic experience, and civic life. In this first Imagining America Vlog Chat, we asked two of this year’s outgoing Fellows, Edgar Reyes and Ngoc-Tran Vu to interview each other about the experiences that motivate and inform their work.
Ngoc-Tran Vu's thirst for knowledge about racism and injustice has taken her to Cuba, an American Indian reservation in Montana, and along the trail of the Freedom Riders in the South.