Lao Diaspora Project Shares Stories Online and at Vine Arts Center

Chanthala Kommanivanh, <i>Autumn in Chicago</i>

Chanthala Kommanivanh, Autumn in Chicago

Little Laos on the Prairie (LLOTP), an online news and culture journal, has been collecting stories for its Lao Diaspora Project since 2013. You can currently find photographs and written pieces on the blog. Starting this weekend, however, the stories will be presented as an exhibition at the Vine Arts Center. Titled "Refuge of the InvisibLao: A Visual Essay," the show will highlight the work of expressionist painter Chantala Kommanivanh and others. 

The exhibit marks 40 years since the end of the Vietnam era, when many Lao people sought refuge in countries as far and wide as the United States, Australia, France, Germany, and Argentina. Chanida Potter, the founding editor and publisher at LLOTP, says the Lao Diaspora Project offers reflections on the journeys of the people living in the diaspora as well as in Laos.

"We're just hoping to spark conversations about where we came from, where we are now, and where we can go," she says. In gathering the stories, themes have emerged, including many issues of cultural identity, and the idea of pursuing the "American dream."

Potter collected stories as well as photographs for the project, conducting interviews with individuals in a number of different countries with a set of 10 questions about people's journeys and experiences.

The things that Potter collected -- in addition to other photographs that were submitted through the website and Kommanivanh's images -- can be viewed online. A number of the images will be on view as part of the Vine Arts show as well. Later this spring, more will be on display at the Brookdale Library in Brooklyn Center. 

Potter says she met Kommanivanh through a mutual friend. The two were embarking on similar projects, collecting stories of people from the diaspora, with Kommanivanh using images he's gathered to create paintings. His work bears influences from graffiti and hip hop, with elements of abstraction and expressionism juxtaposed with realistic portraiture. Based in Chicago, Kommanivanh is also one half of the hip-hop duo Maintenance Crew. 


"Refuge of the InvisibLao"

The opening storytelling reception takes place Saturday, January 10, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Vine Arts Center

2637 27th Ave. S., Minneapolis

Through January 24

Gallery hours are daily from 1 to 7 p.m.