Skip to main content

Boreal Community Media

Public art installations address historical trauma, mental health

Oct 15, 2020 06:39AM ● By Editor
"Unweaving" is a temporary outdoor public art installation by Tia Keobounpheng currently on display in Duluth.  Photo:  Courtesy of Wolfskull Creative

By Emily Bright of Minnesota Public Radio News - October 15, 2020

Opera singer Jennifer Lien of Duluth, Minn., recently saw Tia Keobounpheng’s public art installation “Unweaving,” in the Sister Cities Park in Duluth. The art consists of four large, bright yellow looms strung with woven fabric. The loose ends of the weaving catch the light and billow in the breeze by the lake. Lien found the installation peaceful and was moved by the purpose behind it.

The work is a meditation on lost family history and past historical trauma that is passed along the generations. Keobounpheng’s grandmother was part of the “Red Exodus,” when thousands of Finnish speakers emigrated from Minnesota and the Lake Superior region to Karelia, Russia, in the 1930s, with the goal of forming a Finnish-speaking utopia. 

Many were killed in Stalin’s regime, and those who returned to the U.S. generally did not speak about the experience. In an artist’s statement, Keobounpheng said she designed the installation to explore how communities become “unwoven when we are disconnected from our foundation of ancestral history; i.e. when we don’t know our stories or when truths are suppressed.”

Unweaving by Tia Keobounpheng
"Unweaving" is made with stock lumber, yellow paint, polypropylene rope and used sail.
Photo: Courtesy of Wolfskull Creative

Lien connected personally with the art. As a child and grandchild of immigrants who fled the Japanese invasion and the rise of communism in China, Lien said that the installation “spurred me to think more deeply and to start asking questions about my own family’s historical trauma … and how to unweave those threads in my life through my own particular artistic expression.”

“Unweaving” runs through October.


"The Rainflower Project" by Damien Wolf. Made with stoneware, hand-thrown and hand-carved, affixed to a hand-crafted steel stem.  Photo: Courtesy of Damien Wolf

Writer Russ Stark recommends seeing the “Rain Flower Project,” a public art installation designed to draw attention to mental health and to those who die each year by suicide. Artist Damien Wolf of Plymouth created 675 individual ceramic flowers on steel stems, arranged in a grid on the ground.

The project is steeped in symbolism. Each flower is unique like each person lost to suicide. The leaves form the infinity symbol, meaning that people who die are not forgotten. The colors of the flowers, too, are carefully chosen. White flowers represent remembrance and hope, yellow is light and energy, and black for crisis.

Stark was moved by the effect of the colors together. The few black flowers are surrounded by yellow and white, reminding him of the community needed to support mental health and wellness.

The Rain Flower Project is on display in Plymouth through this weekend.

To listen to the MPR Art Hounds report and see more stories about the arts, follow this link to the MPR News website.

Upcoming Events Near You
Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here