High School Student Wins National Art Competition

Courtesy SJND -- Valerie Pham won the annual Congressional Institute Art Competition for her painting, “Kitchen Chaos.”
Courtesy SJND -- Valerie Pham won the annual Congressional Institute Art Competition for her painting, “Kitchen Chaos.”

High School Student Wins National Art Competition

St. Joseph Notre Dame (SJND) student Valerie Pham’s painting won the annual Congressional Institute Art Competition for the 12th Congressional District of California. Her piece was submitted through Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s 12th District, which represents the City of Alameda and neighboring cities. Each congressional district holds its own competition.

Pham’s work, "Kitchen Chaos," depicts her family’s Buddhist altar stand amidst a hectic kitchen scene, representative of the still and grounding role spiritual practices play in a fast-paced world. The dark figure in the painting represents Pham’s sister, Vivian.

“I painted my kitchen altar because I wanted to challenge typical depictions of Buddhism in popular media,” said Pham, a junior at SJND. “Oftentimes, Buddhism is depicted in a very orientalist and exoticized lens, which not only ignores the ways Buddhism is practiced by ordinary people but allows Buddhist practices to be twisted to fulfill corrupt desires. My painting is not a depiction of Buddhism one would typically see in America. I wanted to show Buddhism from an ordinary lens, without the exoticized imagery or narrow-minded view. It simply shows the way my household honors the kitchen deity, and how a normal family can find stillness in our practices in somewhere other than a mountain.”

Pham said typical image of a Buddhist is a monk with some kind of supernatural wisdom who meditates in silence on a mountain.

“This view ignores the principles an average Buddhist lives their life by, and strips Buddhism of its many layers,” said Pham.

It took Pham about two months, or about 70 hours total, to complete the painting. She used acrylic paint and matte medium on a 16”x20” canvas board from her art classroom. She used tiny detail brushes to paint the altar stand.

Pham learned about the competition through her art teacher, Mark Ritter. She initially wasn’t going to submit a piece, but a friend encouraged her to submit something. Though she has enjoyed art since she was little, Pham just started painting last year in art class.

“I like how when I’m painting, it’s still and quiet, and at a certain point I start to lose any sense of time or stress or due dates,” said Pham. “This past year, I’d also been using art to learn more about my culture.”

For winning the competition, Pham’s painting will be hung in the U.S. Capitol for one year. She was also be invited to Washington D.C., along with all the winners nationwide, for an awards reception in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center on June 20. Pham will attend the reception with her sister. She will be able to meet Congresswoman Lee and go for a tour of the Capitol Building.

Pham is not the first SJND student to win the competition. In 2015, then SJND senior, Taylor Griffith, was selected as the winner of the annual Congressional Arts Competition ("https://alamedasun.com/news/sjnd-senior-wins-congressional-arts-award," May 14, 2015).

The Congressional Arts Competition began in 1982 to provide an opportunity for members of Congress to encourage and recognize the artistic talents of student artists in their district. Since its inception, more than 650,000 high school students have participated in the competition.

Courtesy SJND -- Pham’s nationally recognized painting Kitchen Chaos.