Vietnamese Funerary Paintings
(Nurturing Well-being and Health)
Tuoc Tran learned to paint as a youth from his uncle who was a professional artist and instructor. Later he opened a shop with his brother and taught painting in Saigon for several years. Due to government restrictions on his artistic freedom, he escaped in 1989 and spent three years in refugee camps in Malaysia before receiving permission to come to the United States.
Tuoc Tran followed his passion for painting through war, changing government restrictions, and emigration. “My dream is to teach the Vietnamese style of painting to our youth so that they may understand their culture and be able to share it with future generations. I also hope that through our art, Americans may better understand the beauty of our culture, the truth of our experiences, and all that we bring to America.”
The funerary portrait artist provides an especially important tradition in Vietnamese culture. After the death of a parent or family member, Vietnamese families typically commission an artist to paint the likeness of the deceased person. This becomes part of the family altar where ancestors receive offerings of thanks and prayers for guidance and protection. The duty to mourn one’s parents in death is considered a sacred obligation. Those who neglect the obligation risk the dangers that might result from a lack of protection. This tradition continues in the United States, where commissioned paintings are placed near the coffin during the funeral service.