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New art exhibit explores Laotian refugee experience, post-Vietnam War

Sisavanh Phouthavong Houghton Solo Exhibition
Sisavanh Phouthavong Houghton Solo Exhibition, on display at Pellissippi State through Sept. 23, draws on the artist’s experiences as a Laotian refugee in the post-Vietnam War era.

The Arts at Pellissippi State kicks off its fall 2022 offerings this week with a new installation on the College’s Hardin Valley Campus. 

Sisavanh Phouthavong Houghton Solo Exhibition will be on display through Sept. 23 in the Bagwell Center for Media and Art Gallery, 10915 Hardin Valley Road. The gallery is free and open to the public 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. 

Houghton is a Lao American mixed media visual artist who has displayed her work at galleries and museums across the country and internationally. Her experiences as a refugee and immigrant from the post-Vietnam War era are the driving force behind her body of work. 

“I was born in Laos and immigrated at the age of four and with no real memories of fleeing for my life and spending the next two years in the refugee camps in Nong Khai, Thailand,” Sisavanh Phouthavong Houghton says in her artist statement on her website. “My first distinctive memory was someone wrapping a coat around me because I was cold in San Francisco. … My story is nothing different from thousands of other immigrants fleeing from war or oppression. It is not romantic or ethereal, but instead a true act of survival and full of pathos.” 

Houghton’s goals with her artwork are to preserve and educate the public about the untold stories, the forgotten Secret War on Laos and the journey of immigrants such as herself.

Sisavanh Phouthavong Houghton Solo Exhibition “The refugee immigration photographs are a testament that we are not another number, but a reflection of war and humanity’s consequences,” she says. “It is about the larger context of not denying that war is a constant factor in our lives and how this discussion resonates with everyone.” 

“When I first saw Sisavanh’s work at the Hunter Museum in Chattanooga, I was stunned by the quality and virtuoso painting,” said Professor Herb Rieth of Pellissippi State. “The fact that the work has such a compelling and strong impetus makes it all the more powerful. I wanted Pellissippi State students to experience that power and beauty.” 

The Arts at Pellissippi State includes visual arts exhibits as well as theatre and music performances, all of which are open to the public. For a list of upcoming events, visit