We often hear of the iconic foods that Boston is known for but what about underrepresented foods that are quite popular (and tasty) yet do not get enough coverage? For the “Tasteful Boston” public art project, I wanted to amplify the richness of ethnic and cultural foods within local communities. As a Vietnamese American artist who grew up in Dorchester with my family, I was also interested in representing the vibrant flavors for residents who identify as immigrants and refugees. I wanted to showcase foods such as bánh mì, roti, plantains, etc. because these foods represent the dynamic and resilient stories of families and individuals as part of the Boston fabric.
Amidst all that's happening in our communities and world surrounding the pandemic, the need for healing and renewal through the arts and culture is more urgent than ever. As an artist and organizer, my practice with intergenerational community engagement directly aligns with the project’s mission and vision. Through painting this the utility box, I hope to bring forth more glimpse of hope and happiness to share with the public.
As a socially engaged artist and current adjunct instructor at UMass Boston, my work is rooted in social justice, human element, environment and interaction of materials. My practice has been wide-ranging, including public art installations such as a large-scale community collaborative mural by a team of local residents and artists. Born in Vietnam, I came to the United States with my family as political refugees and grew up in Dorchester and South Boston’s working-class neighborhoods. I thread my social practice through photography, painting, and sculpture so that my art can resonate and engage audiences with intentionality. Raised (and still living) in Dorchester, my values are tied to its rich culture, history and legacy of resiliency. I am committed to highlighting cross-cultural narratives of its people—my neighbors and community.
My utility box design – A Closer Look at Phở represents a closer examination of Vietnamese food and culture with nods to Southeast Asian cuisine overall. I believe Vietnamese foods are very much a part of the ethnic vibrancy of Boston - my hometown and community. I believe it's critical to spotlight marginalized ethnic food such as Vietnamese because it's a part of the Boston and American modern cuisine and food culture. My goals were to highlight both the beauty and aesthetics of Vietnamese flavors in a meaningful manner while not presenting it in a stereotypical way. Most of all, I wanted viewers to be conscious of any ethnic food they are seeking, consuming and hopefully appreciating in the process.
My practice in public art has emerged within the past few years as I led the “Community in Action: A mural for the Vietnamese people” project in 2017, which organized youth and elders in Dorchester’s Fields Corner neighborhood to work together to highlight the local Vietnamese American narrative and themes of unity and hope for local residents. Furthermore, I am currently directing a collaborative multimedia project “Family Stories, Chuyện Gia Đình 2.0” which are multimedia performances that unpacked intergenerational narratives of diaspora, resiliency, memories, mental health and healing practices within the Vietnamese household. This intergenerational storytelling project brings together a group of elderly and emerging artists to co-create a series of monthly bilingual dialogues grounded in the Dorchester community.
I hope reading all this gives you a closer look at my practice and who I am as an artist. Now as the cold weather emerges and you are ever in the mood for some delicious phở, consider coming to Dorchester’s Fields Corner neighborhood for some great selections! You will not regret it. In the meantime, do check out A Closer Look at Phở right at 125 Summer Street in Downtown Boston and be sure to tag @TranVuArts.