Hmong exhibit in Appleton sparks discussion on traditional heritage, modernization

When You Were Made Hmong art exhibit in Appleton (WLUK/Jessie Basinski)

APPLETON (WLUK) -- Hmong culture has long been part of Northeast Wisconsin.

An art space dedicated to the Hmong heritage is now at the Wriston Art Galleries at Lawrence University.

That's where work from two emerging Hmong artists is featured there.

Beth Zinsli, curator for Wriston Art Galleries says the two artists' work take a look at the evolution of Hmong culture.

“Both women artists are really interested in exploring the place of women in Hmong culture and how that’s evolving over time,” Zinsli said.

What is it like to be a young Hmong woman in the U.S. today?

Artists Tsab (Cha) Her and Victoria Kue (Coo) hope to address that through their work.

“They are both of Hmong decent, and their artwork interacts with, relates to, reflects their heritage, but also the fact that they are young women living in the 21st Century,” said Zinsli.

The “When You Were Made” exhibit shows the complexities of this dual-life and navigating between the two worlds: traditional Hmong heritage and modern America.

Her tries to accomplish this by splashing in a bit of humor in her artwork.

“Instead of using the traditional motifs and patterns, Tsab has incorporated more contemporary things that are more a part of her life, like the text message motif that you can see here," Zinsli explained.

She also meshes traditional Hmong patterns into witty textiles.

Zinsli says Kue’s work has more serious undertones, but the "When You Were Made" exhibit name couldn’t be more fitting for these emerging Hmong artists.

“It has a direct reference to the fact that they’re coming this traditional culture and that’s embedded in who they are and their identities but they're also moving forward out into the world.

Because the Hmong are an ethnic minority of Southeast Asia with no homeland, not many Americans know they exist.

So Her took one of her own creations, and made it into a sticker with #HmongSpace on it.

The hopes is that when a sticker is placed in the world, it’ll raise awareness that while many people may not know who they are, they are not invisible.

Saturday, a panel discussion on Hmong identity with the artists will take place at the Appleton Public Library.

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