In Vietnamese artist Huong's 64-by-100-inch painting Of Her Treasure, one child cries as the other clings to their mother's leg. Head tilted upward, face contorted in anguish, the mother clutches a bowl full of skulls and bones and screams at the heavens. They cower in a rainstorm, the sky behind them the color of bright-red blood.
The huge discomfiting canvas is one of 24 large-scale works from a collection Huong has dubbed The War Pieces, which she will unveil this weekend at the Taj Mahal-looking house located in Southwest Miami-Dade, off the Palmetto Expressway. Formerly known as Gloria's Palace, the 11,000-square-foot structure has been renamed the Art Palace by Huong and her husband, Glen Ryals, who bought the dilapidated place five years ago and renovated it for her to work on this project. "The house has a spirit," says Huong, who lives in Boca Raton. "If you look at the house, you can see it. I'm right in the middle of Miami, but when you close the door, I'm just on my own working."
And what Huong, who arrived in the United States in 1975 on a boat with her infant son, has been busily completing was this project, dealing with the horror of the Vietnam War, which she experienced directly the first 25 years of her life in South Vietnam as the daughter of a military officer. Trained as a journalist in her homeland, Huong "broke her pen" when she got to America and found a paintbrush a better vehicle to communicate her ideas. She set about creating works from the female perspective, which she calls "women's vision." Her most pervasive subject: the Vietnam War. "The subject of the war is always a man's territory," she explains. "Men run the war; men fight it and win it. But the women stay behind. The last twenty years it was something I tried to forget, but I couldn't. In the last five years, I have been strong enough to look at that tragedy and paint what I had witnessed."
Not all the works depict wrenching moments of pain and suffering. Peace Dance, for instance, features a girl surrounded by white doves and serenely strumming a guitar against a blue sky. And none of them are for sale, either. Huong hopes her works eventually will tour museums in various embattled nations. Although the project is complete, Huong realizes war is a theme she'll always be addressing in one way or another. "I want to send out the message of peace," she notes. "This is my dedication to all the victims. I want to stand on the street and show everybody what war means and wake everybody up."