Ngoc-Tran Vu
Community in Action: A Mural for Vietnamese People

A mural is installed on a red brick wall betwen two sets of windows, spanning two storeys. It is tall and narrow and shows a small boat on a river, being steered by a woman in a purple dress and nón lá, or a traditional Vietnamese leaf hat, with a small boy pointing over the side of the boat. There are pink flowers and orange and white fish in the river, and a tree growing out of the land where the river meets the shore. The land in the background shows rolling hills and fields, with mountains on the horizon. Instead of leaves there is a circle at the top of the tree showing an image of a group of about 10 people of varying race in the forefront of a green field with high rise buildings in the background on a blue sky. A blue water dragon and orange fire phoenix are wrapped around the circle.
Community in Action: A Mural for Vietnamese People, acrylic on dibond, 24x8 ft., 2017. Photo: Owen Angote, 2020.

[Image Description: A tall and narrow mural installed on a red brick wall depicting a woman and child in a boat on a river, floating towards a tree that holds up a circle showing a cityscape and wrapped around by animalistic orange and blue figures.]

Not often do people from a community get to look at a mural in their neighborhood and say, “I did that part right there.” When artist Ngoc-Tran Vu set out to work on Community in Action: A Mural for Vietnamese People in Dorchester, Massachusetts, she drew from her community organizing roots to center collaborative art-making in the process. The two-story mural graces the side of Phở Hòa Restaurant in the neighborhood of Fields Corner and celebrates the vibrant narrative of Vietnamese immigrants in Dorchester. Weaving in aspects of Vietnamese folklore and Boston culture, the mural not just reflects the community, but comes from the community itself. 

At its infancy, the mural was intentionally led by a steering committee of intergenerational and multi-cultural residents who wanted to bring their vision to the making of this piece. In addition to the steering committee, a larger group of emerging local young Vietnamese artists contributed to the design and painting of the mural. Over the course of nearly half a year, the entire cohort, facilitated by Vu, met regularly to collaborate on the direction of the piece. Vu, who grew up just steps away from the mural, wanted community members to have agency when it came to how the mural’s narrative was told. By inviting residents throughout the neighborhood into the process, the piece subverts traditionally held notions of who consumes and who creates art, making the entire experience accessible to anyone who wants to take part.

Community in Action questions who gets a say in content and process when a large-scale piece of art is being produced for an entire community. In a world where the solo artist is idolized, Vu opened up her practice to co-create with her neighbors instead of interpreting their stories through a siloed lens. Anyone passing through Fields Corner can catch sight of the mural if they drive or walk through the intersection at Dorchester Avenue and Orchardfield Street. If driving, they might get a glimpse of something bright and blazing on the side of the building. If walking, they might pause to stare up at the mural and take in its intricacies that speak to a nuanced journey of a people growing community in a new home.

— An Uong

Photograph of an intergenerational and multi-racial group of 15 people standing in front of a tall brick building, on which is installed a painted mural. The mural is tall and narrow and shows a small boat on a river, being steered by a woman in a purple dress and nón lá, or a traditional Vietnamese leaf hat, with a small boy pointing over the side of the boat. There are pink flowers and orange and white fish in the river, and a tree growing out of the land where the river meets the shore. The land in the background shows rolling hills and fields, with mountains on the horizon. Instead of leaves there is a circle at the top of the tree showing an image of a group of about 10 people of varying race in the forefront of a green field with high rise buildings in the background on a blue sky. A blue water dragon and orange fire phoenix are wrapped around the circle.
Community in Action: A Mural for Vietnamese People, installation photography with the artist and steering committee, 2017, Photo: Courtney Regan

[Image Description: A group of people of varing ages and races in front of a building on which is mounted a large colorful mural.]
Community in Action: A Mural for Vietnamese People, time lapse, digital recording, 2017
Credit: Tri Tran

For a transcript of the video, click here.
A time lapse video shows the creation of a mural. The panels of the mural lie on the floor on top of a green and black tarp, surrounded by shelves, tables, buckets, and exposed cables in a concrete room. Various people enter and exit the screen, adding to the mural as they sit and stand around the sides and on top of the panels. As the time lapse begins, the shapes of the mural are outlined in muted colors, showing a woman and child in a boat, a river, and a tree, and animals. More detail and color are added to the painting as the video progresses, depicting the woman in traditional Vietnamese dress and vivid blue and orange figures curled around the circle holding a distant cityscape at the top of the tree.

Artist Biography

Ngoc-Tran Vu (she/her) is a 1.5-generation Vietnamese-American multimedia artist and organizer whose socially engaged practice draws from her experience as a connector, educator, and lightworker. Tran threads her social practice through photography, painting, sculpture and audio so that her art can resonate and engage audience with intentionality. Her work evokes discourse of familial ties, memories and rituals amongst themes of social justice and intersectionality. Born in Vietnam, Tran came to the United States with her family as political refugees and grew up in Boston's Dorchester and South Boston working-class neighborhoods. Tran works across borders and is based in Boston's Dorchester community.

https://tranvuarts.com/