Seven years ago, Hao Luong and her family moved from Vietnam to Chattanooga.
At that point in her early 20s, Luong said, she was ready for new experiences. After first learning English, she was poised to pursue a dream and a college degree—again.
Luong, who will be graduating from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in December with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting and drawing, is literally leaving her mark on the walls of her second institution.
On Monday, Nov. 20, multiple pieces of her artwork went on display in the offices of the UTC Division of Access and Engagement, thanks to a fellowship created for artist opportunities. Access and Engagement provided a stipend to cover supplies for the rotating artist series highlighting the work of UTC art students.
“This is a really great opportunity to show everyone around the campus my work,” said Luong, who previously received a bachelor’s degree from Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture in Vietnam—where she majored in graphic design.
“Graphic design is related to art, but different,” she said. “With graphic design, you do it with the computer and technology. I came back (to college) to learn the traditional way.
“My dream is I want to be an illustrator. I feel like painting and drawing has helped me to bring my ideas and combine them with graphic design to create more dream art. That’s my goal.”
Luong said she selected UTC because it’s close to her family, calling her time at the University “a wonderful experience.”
Coming to UTC allowed her to work with Dr. Angie To, head of the Department of Art, who encouraged her to explore her Vietnamese background.
“She recommended, ‘Oh, I think your art is really interesting and really different’ because I’m from a different country and had different experiences from the people in the U.S.,” Luong recalled. “My art is really colorful, crystal and shiny.
“I want to combine what I have in the past and the knowledge I got in the U.S.”
Luong is the second product of the UTC Department of Art to display work on the Access and Engagement walls as part of the division’s art fellowship, following inaugural artist Tamia Spinks.
To said the mission of the gallery space is to give exhibition opportunities to students who don’t typically get much visibility.
“Hao Luong is one of those students who, through the time she’s been here with the department, has just been such a positive force,” To said. “If you think about her personal history as an international student and someone who has her own challenges and struggles, she is really able to make a positive impact through her art. You can see from the work in the (Access and Engagement) office that her art is really joyful and pulls from her cultural and ethnic background.
“It’s a delight to see someone who’s able to turn some challenges in her life into something that’s really positive but also brings forward her family—and her Vietnamese culture—as she sees it.”
To characterized Luong as someone willing to experiment, citing different materials and stories she can tell with her art.
“It wasn’t a hard choice to make her our next young gallery artist, especially since we’re highlighting positivity and the work of the students,” To said, “and she’s graduating in December—so that’s another wonderful reason why highlighting her as a second person was important.”
Six pieces of Luong’s art now adorn the Access and Engagement walls, including “Metal,” the first work one sees when entering the office. She called the 5-by-6 collage— consisting of filling foam spray, crystal, resin, acrylic paint and gold spray paint—her “favorite baby.”
“It took me three months,” she said of the experience of putting “Metal” together, which included time in a wood shop cutting the canvas to size. “I built a lot of muscle … it was a really interesting experience. That’s why I tell you it’s my favorite baby.
“It shows my personality: shiny heart and the beauty underneath.”
Other Luong works on display in include “Ao Doi and The Year of the Cat,” “The Empress,” “Golden Moments,” “Muse,” and “Flash Tiger.”