Vietnam Vanishing: Postcards From A Changing World

Vietnam. December 2014 - February 2015

These watercolor illustrations are from the field journal that I kept while traveling from the southern-most tip of Vietnam to the Chinese border in the north. I came to the Mekong Delta as a student in the Climate Change Studies Program of the University of Montana. With a grant from the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center, I extended my stay and traveled for an additional five weeks with my watercolor paints documenting what I saw. These images are snapshots of a vanishing way of life. They serve as documents of the present in a country launching its way into a new future shaped by political, social and environmental change.

Vietnam is a country rich in natural and cultural heritage. The Mekong remains the second most biologically diverse river in the world, only after the Amazon. The region is home to 54 ethnic minority groups, each with its own vibrant histories and traditions. As the Vietnamese like to say, “our country has a history as long and rich as China’s.” Yet rapid industrialization, climate change and corrupt government threaten this incredible heritage. Curiosity about the many-layered history of Vietnam allowed me to see past the challenges the nation faces.  

The history of Vietnam is one of occupation, oppression and resistance. Beginning with a thousand years of Chinese rule, a century of French colonization and ending with the American War, the country has endured unspeakable suffering. As Le Ly Hayslip explains in her memoir, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman's Journey from War to Peace, "The special gift of that suffering, I have learned, is how to be strong while we are weak, how to be brave when we are afraid, how to be wise in the midst of confusion, and how to let go of that which we can no longer hold." By finding, capturing and celebrating the beauty of Vietnam, I hope to remind those who have forgotten what is truly precious in this changing world.

A special thanks to the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center for travel funding and to the Davidson Honors College for sponsoring this exhibit. Gratitude to my mentors, Nicky Phear, Dan Spencer and Laure Pengelly Drake for their support and guidance.