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Lifting words



Savanhdary Vongpoothorn

Laos, Australia

1971 -


Savanhdary Vongpoothorn's radiating painting 'Lifting words' interweaves cross-cultural perspectives with familial experiences. 'Lifting words' was inspired by, and takes its title from, Vongpoothorn's reading of Justin Thomas McDaniel's book 'Gathering leaves and lifting words: histories of Buddhist monastic education in Laos and Thailand' (2008). McDaniel expounds that "lifting words" is the practice of Laotian/ Thai priests appropriating Pali texts through repetitious transcription and recital during ceremonies. Over time the narrative evolves, whilst retaining its core message, into new literature through a process McDaniel terms "languaging". As a painter Vongpoothorn identifies with "languaging" or "lifting words" because she understands that "I am not saying anything new, yet, through painting I say it in a new way".

In 'Lifting words' Vongpoothorn has quoted, in a wispy calligraphic style, text from braille magazines which were published in Vietnam during the late 1960s, but purchased in Laos. The multilingual and phonetically spelt words, translated from propaganda poetry of Ho Chi Minh and Kaysone Phomvihane, elucidate the close ties between their respective countries. This source material is also of special significance for Vongpoothorn considering her family's history in Laos with the Vietnam War and their migration to Australia in 1979.

Spanning the canvas are vertical bands of perforations which have been undertaken by the artist's father, Mungsamai, in her studio with a soldering iron, whilst her child Rashmi played nearby. The meditative exercise of burning is synonymous with Buddhist notions of creation and destruction but is also an aesthetic and material reference to the braille magazines and the design of Laotian weaving.




Media category


Materials used

synthetic polymer paint on perforated canvas


180.0 x 150.5 x 3.0 cm stretcher

Signature & date

Signed and dated u.l. to top c. verso on stretcher, purple pencil "S. Vongpoothorn ... 2011".


Gift of Ashley Carruthers 2015. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Savanhdary Vongpoothorn

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 2 publications


Chaitanya Sambrani, Savanhdary Vongpoothorn: Stone Down a Well, Richmond, Nov 2011, front cover (colour illus.). 1

Savanhdary Vongpoothorn, Asia through art and anthropology: cultural translation across borders, 'Lifting words, Floating words', pg. 103-110, New York, 2013, viii, 105, 107, 109, 200. plate no. 20