Mai Vang Yang: Shaman, Healer
On view October 4 - November 10, 2019 at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

This series of photographs is a result of my engagement, in 2019, with the collection in the Hmong Archives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Among the recently accessioned artifacts was a collection of personal items belonging to Mai Vang Yang, a Hmong shaman and healer. Having no immediate family in the area upon her death in 2017, her personal effects were under imminent danger of being discarded. It was only with the last-minute intervention by a fellow member of the Temple of Hmongism that the Hmong Archives was able to accession her personal belongings.

Among the hundreds of everyday items Ms. Yang left behind were tools she used in her spiritual and healing practice. I was drawn to these objects because the cosmology, epistemology, and ontology associated with them were immediately and intimately legible to me. In my photographs of Ms. Yang's tools, I attempted to represent the spiritual power I sensed in them. The extreme closeups of details juxtaposing rope and stone, steel and fabric, metal and wood show the materiality of the tools while also suggesting their ultimately uncanny nature.

Ms. Yang was a member of the Temple of Hmongism. Based in St. Paul, the Temple's mission is to simplify Hmong traditional religious practices in order to dramatically reduce time and cost and to inspire future generations to proudly remain with Hmongism as their faith.

I would like to express my deep-felt appreciation to Marlin L. Heise for his patience and generosity in providing me guidance and access to the materials and artifacts collected in the Hmong Archives.

Technical Consultant: Nicole L. Thomas

2018/19 MCAD-Jerome Fellowship Exhibition Catalog (PDF download)

Boone Nguyen is a recipient of the 2018/19 MCAD-Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Early Career Artists, administered by the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and funded by the Jerome Foundation.

Photo credit: Rik Sferra

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