Hmong Textiles on Display

Cloth as Community: Hmong Textiles in America is currently on display at the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising at Colorado State University until December 21. The exhibit focuses on the evolution of Hmong design and includes textiles with traditional geometric designs as well as modern embroidered story cloths. Cloth as Community is a traveling show and a program of ExhibitsUSA, national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts.

To understand the show, it’s important to understand a bit of the background. After the Vietnam War, the Hmong people of Laos suffered persecution, violence, and even attempted genocide. Many fled, fearing for their lives, and ended up in the United States bringing with them their textile traditions. The Hmong believed their handcrafted textiles provided important spiritual protection and were never sold. Upon arriving in the United States, this mind-set changed and cloth became a way for Hmong women to earn money while holding on to important cultural traditions.

Hmong Textiles

A Hmong story cloth depicting every day village life before the Hmong had to flee Laos. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE AVENIR MUSEUM.

The 28 textiles featured in the exhibit illustrate how the makers created new textile traditions while holding firm to the old. While some story cloths tell of a fearful and dangerous escape from Laos, others, made to suit a broader range of tastes, feature images of village life, Hmong folktales, and even nativity scenes. Once again, the textile artists of the Hmong changed their works to meet the needs of their market.

On November 8, as part of the exhibit, Geraldine Craig, MFA, professor of art at Kansas State University, will give a lecture titled “Hmong Culture, Cloth, and Community.” Craig, who also helped curate the exhibit, will talk about her own experiences with Hmong textiles and the ways in which the political intersects with the textile.

Hmong Textiles

More traditional geometric designs created using embroidery and applique on display at the Avenir Museum.

More information on the exhibit and the Avenir Museum can be found here. In the meantime, if you can’t make it to the exhibit, there’s a wonderful article—and accompanying project!—about the tradition of appliqué among both the Hmong and the Amish in the November/December 1993 issue of PieceWork. Learn more about it here.

Happy Weaving!
Christina

Featured Image: Close up on one of the story cloths on display at the Avenir Museum.


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