Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

“Cloth as Land” at JMKAC Presents Textiles as a Wellspring of Hmong Indigeneity

By admin Dec13,2023

HMong* indigeneity is complicated by centuries of political conflicts, displacement, erasure, and disorientation in HMong homelands of China and Southeast Asia. Thaum teb chaws tawg (when the land broke), it hid within the designs of paj ntaub (flower cloth). 

Cloth as Land, currently on view at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC) in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, through June 16, 2024, aims to situate HMong indigeneity within an American terrain. The exhibition centers on the voices of three HMong-American artists — Ger Xiong/Ntxawg Xyooj, Pao Houa Her, and Tshab Her — and includes more than 30 Hmong textiles from the JMKAC collection. 

The collection of textiles, acquired in 1985, captures a crucial moment of transition when HMong people sought refuge in the United States after the end of a 16-year civil war in Laos. Cloth as Land intends to reframe how paj ntaub is seen, exploring how it grounds kinship and influences the works of contemporary HMong artists.

Ntxawg Xyooj/Ger Xiong combines silversmithing with cross-stitch embroidery. He superimposes traditional Hmong colors and designs over branded objects from the US, cutting, drilling, and stitching into the dominant spaces he knows to remake at home. In two of his four works on view, he opts for McDonald’s containers and Coca-Cola cans in place of traditional canvases. 

Tshab Her’s practice rests in the power of HMong story cloths created in Thai refugee camps. Those story clothes gave form to accounts of trauma and grief as well as serene visions of life before the war. The artist uses the medium to document her struggles in addressing generational trauma and to realize healing through the spirit of her ancestors. 

The portraits displayed by Pao Houa Her in the exhibition are a part of her series My Mothers Flowers. Her use of the opium poppy within her photography aligns with aesthetics found throughout paj ntaub. The opium poppies, which line the portraits of women from her family, are intended to transport people back to an idyllic memory of homeland and spark a much-needed conversation about present-day HMong experiences. 

Admission to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center is free.

For more information, visit jmkac.org.

Cloth as Land: Hmong Indigeneity is funded by grants from the Henry Luce Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Terra Foundation for American Art, Travel Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Humanities, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

*HMong is written with a capital H and M to be inclusive of White Hmong and Green Mong dialects. Speakers of the White dialect pronounce “Hmong” with a silent “H,” indicating a nasal aspiration or puff of air out of the nose. Speakers of the Green dialect pronounce “Mong” without.

By admin

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