On her trusty motorcycle, Vietnamese artist Dang Ai Viet travels around the Southeast Asian country in a quest to ensure that the thousands of women who suffered the loss of two or more loved ones during the Vietnam War are not forgotten.
The 75-year-old has painted the portraits of 2,765 of the women, who are part of a group known in Vietnam as “heroic mothers”, in recognition of their sacrifice during the war that ended in 1975.
“I paint so that the current generation and the ones after will have a chance to see the look in the eyes of a mother who lost more than one of her sons,” Viet told Reuters.
During the war, Viet was a guerrilla in the Mekong Delta for the Viet Cong, fighters who backed North Vietnam in the battle against the government of the then South Vietnam and its main ally, the United States.
Some researchers have estimated about 3.8 million people were killed during the war, though estimates of the toll vary.
In Dong Thap province in the Mekong Delta, Viet recently painted the portrait of Huynh Thi Bay, 98, whose husband and eldest son were killed in 1969, only days apart.
“It is devastating enough for a mother to learn of the death of her son, but it takes a hero to learn of the death of both a husband and a son,” Viet said.
Before the portrait is handed over to the family, Viet includes details of the woman and how her loved ones died and the local government gives a stamp of authenticity.
“From now on, there will a picture of her in the family’s possession and we can always see my mother,” said Bay’s only surviving son, Thuong Van Hop.
In the past six months, Bay has travelled more than 10,000 km (6,214 miles) on her mission to paint the 5,000 surviving women.
She knows she’s in a race as time inevitably takes its toll.