July 6, 2022

By BRYAN THAO WORRA

AAP staff writer

Lao American visual artist Mali Kouanchao will be featured as the subject of a new children’s book Mali Under the Night Sky, written and illustrated by acclaimed writer Youme Landowne. Due out in bookstores in July 2010, it is being released by the award-winning Texas-based Cinco Punto Press – with a mission to publish great books that make a difference in the way people see the world.

According to the publisher: “Mali Under the Night Sky is the true story of Laotian-American artist Malichansouk Kouanchao, whose family was forced by civil war to flee Laos when she was five. Before the war began, Mali lived an idyllic life in a community where she felt safe and was much loved. She loved to sit in front of her house and ask everyone who passed by, “Where are you going?”

She herself went everywhere too – climbing on the flowering trees, catching tiny fish in a rice field, looking for pale bamboo shoots in the dark forest. She loved the time she spent with her family, napping in the hot afternoons, making feasts and coming together on special days to celebrate. But the coming war caused her family to flee to another country and a life that was less than ideal.

What did she carry with her? She carried her memories. And they in turn carried her across the world, sharing where she is from and all that she loves with the people she meets.”

“Mali Under the Night Sky” will also feature a commentary by Oscar-nominated director Thavisouk Phrasavath.

A resident of Minneapolis, Kouanchao has done groundbreaking work to develop a new and daring visual vocabulary for the Lao American experience of the world. Often working in large formats, her style has evolved substantially over the years.

One of her well-known pieces is the artwork used by Refugee Nation, a national interdisciplinary–multi-media collaboration that explores the impact of war, refugees, global politics and U.S. citizenship. It’s difficult to find early examples of her work but she’s been part of several significant projects over the years, including several prominent murals audiences can spot in Minneapolis and Minnesota.

Her multi-disciplinary works explore the relationship between art, transformation, and communal healing. She serves on the national steering committee for Legacies of War, a national project established to raise awareness of the Secret War in Laos, as well as to advocate for further U.S. support toward the removal of cluster bombs and increased aid for bomb survivors. Other current projects include her ‘Displacement’ series documenting the story of Cambodian and Southeast Asian deportees from America.

Kouanchao was recently named a finalist for the Bush Artist Fellowship. The $50,000 fellowship is the largest artist grant in the Upper Midwest and one of only three open-application artist fellowships of this size in the United States.

Youme Landowne is an artist and activist who grew up in Miami, Florida, and Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Landowne’s work has taken her to Nairobi, Kenya, where she wrote and illustrated for Rainbow Magazine; to Kyoto, Japan, where she worked as a graphic artist; to Santiago de Cuba as a participant in Inter Nos, a collaborative mural project; and to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, collaborating with children to paint murals and document their stories through drawings and the written word. She became a professional community muralist working with Precita Eyes Mural Art Center in San Francisco, California.

Youme’s first children’s book is the award winning Selavi: A Haitian Story of Hope. Youme wrote and illustrated Selavi, which is a story based on real life children in Haiti who are homeless and have made a community together. Selavi has received numerous awards, such as the Jane Addams Peace Award and the American Library Association Notable Book Award.

The well-regarded Cinco Punto Press has received the American Book Award for excellence in publishing and been inducted into the Latino Literary Hall of Fame. They’ve received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Texas Commission for the Arts. Several of their books have received Southwest Book Awards and they’ve received a special Southwest Book Award in 1993 for outstanding achievement in bringing national recognition to their regional literature. They also received funds from the Fideicomiso para la Cultura de México y Estados Unidos. You can visit them online at www.cincopuntos.com.

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