Teo Nguyen's "I only wished to sit with you to say a word or two," one of the photorealistic paintings from the series "Viet Nam Peace Project: Memories of Home". Courtesy of the artist © Teo Nugyen

Sense of “belonging and identity” prompts 3M employees to sponsor Mia show

By Tim Gihring //

As one of Minnesota’s largest companies, 3M has long supported Mia. But recently one of 3M’s employee groups came together to support an exhibition on its own: Teo Nguyen’s “Việt Nam Peace Project,” a series of photorealistic paintings depicting the kind of lush landscapes that often serve as the backdrop to Vietnam War films—only without the violence.

3M has nine employee resource networks, or ERNs, in the United States. A3CTION is its ERN for employees of Asian heritage and their allies, strengthening ties in and outside the company. When the Hmong Cultural Center in St. Paul was vandalized in 2021, for instance, A3CTION members helped it recover with volunteers and donations. That same year, 3M began an Equity Grant Program that allows ERNs to more directly guide the company’s philanthropy. Maureen Harms, Vice President and Associate General Counsel of 3M Legal Affairs, suggested A3CTION consider sponsoring the “Việt Nam Peace Project” and helped secure donations from 3M’s senior leaders.

Teo Nguyen, born in Vietnam, moved to the United States as a teenager. Photo credit: Micah Tran

“It was an opportunity we didn’t want to pass up,” says Hang Loi, who chaired A3CTION last year. “Simply put, it’s personal. Though I grew up in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, during the height of the Vietnam war, my memory is largely of a carefree childhood. In subsequent returns decades later, meeting my large extended families, I am in awe of the country’s beauty, which evokes both a deep sense of loss and an excited curiosity. I appreciate Teo Nguyen’s vision to share the narrative that Vietnam is a country, a people with a long history, and not just a war that so many in America know.”

Many A3CTION members are immigrants, and in Nguyen’s paintings and film they, too, have found affirmation. “We have to tell our story,” says Zhong Chen, “and to have a top-tier artist tell it through artistic expression—I think that’s the most effective way.” Liang Gong says that for years she’s dealt with “the question of where I belong in this community and this country. Teo represents the subtlety of how this search for belonging and identity really feels.”

Ray Eby, president of 3M’s Personal Safety Division, is one of the sponsoring executives for A3CTION and has regularly visited Vietnam, where his father served during the war. Nguyen’s exhibition, he says, offers a similar counterpoint to the kind of stereotypes the employee group seeks to address in its own activities, such as Lunar New Year events. “It brings people into a different context,” he says.

Simply by featuring Nguyen’s art, says Greg King, the museum helps counter the perception of Asians in America as largely tech-focused, unengaged in creative work—a reductive view familiar to A3CTION’s members. Indeed, the show can feel like a respite, a place to feel whole. In May, when the group holds an event at Mia to see and discuss the art with Nguyen, it will be “an opportunity to share our own stories,” Gong says, “really creating our own space.”