Remembering Vanessa: Aunt Honors Murdered Niece Through Art - NBC4 Washington

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Remembering Vanessa: Aunt Honors Murdered Niece Through Art



    Art Exhibit to Honor Life of Murdered Student From Fairfax County

    Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey previews an art exhibit with works by Vanessa Pham and her aunt Michelle. (Published Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015)

    A 19-year-old college student who was stabbed to death by a man who had asked her for a ride is being remembered with an art exhibit.

    A man who said he needed to get his sick baby to the hospital killed Vanessa Pham in 2010. Five years after her murder, Pham's family spoke for the first time about their loss and the artwork that may serve as therapy for them.

    Aunt Michelle Pham is a painter and was struck with the idea for an exhibit in her niece's honor.

    "My niece is gone too young, too fast," she said. "She doesn't have the chance to do the exhibition herself so I do that for her."

    The display at the Verizon Gallery at Northern Virginia Community College's Ernst Cultural Center combines Michelle Pham's painting with artwork done by her niece. From Vanessa Pham, there is a color-splashed kindergarten drawing along with one of her last works, a striking drawing of a dancer created during her first year of college.

    Michelle Pham said one of her most vibrant abstracts, "Jubilation," was created on one of her happiest days with her niece -- the day Vanessa Pham learned she'd been accepted to Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD).

    "She was very happy, so that's why I did that picture... That's the jubilation," Michelle Pham said.

    But she dedicates a whole series of paintings to one of the family's darkest days: June 27, 2010. That day Vanessa Pham was found stabbed to death in her car alongside Rt. 50 in the Merrifield area. Michelle Pham had to drive past the murder scene every day on her way to work, so in her painting, she changes the view. Bright colors dominate.

    "When we came home we passed and the tear came out so I wanted to change the view. So I changed the picture," Michelle Pham said. Yet another painting depicts heaven. And there is a piece titled "Broken hearted" showing two hearts.

    "The small one is her heart. The big one is our family -- mom, my sister. You can see the blood come out."

    But Pham said the work helped with her grief.

    "After I finish that painting, no more anger, no more sad," she said.

    Vanessa Pham's mom, Julie Pham, never expected to see her daughter's work displayed.

    "I'm so proud of her," she said.

    When Michelle Pham approached NVCC and asked to use the gallery, administrators had little go on.

    "I only saw like two photographs in her iPhone, so we were taking a big leap. But she was so passionate and so excited and she'd never done a full fledge exhibition," Ernst Cultural Center Director Kevin Sheehan said.

    "We are a community center, and so I thought what a perfect venue for her telling her story."

    The work will be on display through Sunday.

    Artist's receptions with Pham's family have been scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. 15. Free parking will be available in the visitor parking garage and B lots during the receptions.

    The Verizon Gallery is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It's also often open on the weekends, when events are scheduled. Find the press release and more information on Michelle Pham's exhibition on NOVA's website.