Homage to the Hmong

In my travels, I have always been attracted to the folk arts, especially the weaving, hand decoration, needlecraft and jewelry of tribal minorities. For the past 15 years I have been collecting the clothing and jewelry of the Hmong - the Miao in China, and recently the Black and Flower Hmong in Sapa, Vietnam, the Hmong and the Karen in Chiang-mai, Thailand. The Hmong are one of the minority hill tribes of South East Asia who live in the mountainous crescent spanning China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar.

 

 

Their impressive embroidery is fine, intricate, layered and exquisite. Their surface decoration is stunning.  Young girls are trained to harvest, spin, weave, batik, dye, embroider, decorate and embellish clothing, including baby caps and baby-carriers.  The men and women of these hill tribes eke out a meager living farming in isolated mountainous terrain. The jewelry is made by the men.

The work, ‘HOMAGE TO HMONG’ is created with Panels from the same skirt. The panel above is embroidered.  Intricate diamonds are attached with very fine stitches.

 

 

The Skirt Panel below has braid and applique over cloth that was first batiked. 

 

 

 

Their ethnic identification, history, cultural values and beliefs are recorded and preserved in their distinctive colorful embroidered and woven clothing. They are involved in every stage from growing the crop to spinning and embellishing their woven, wax-resist, or sophisticated embroidered textiles which have function, history and song. Their textile is the script... the essence of their language. The cloth is their canvas, the needle their pen.      

 

 

Their baby carriers, for example, are entirely embroidered with motifs and auspicious symbols to preserve spiritual purity, security, health and happiness.  The infinite variety of pattern represent ancestral legends and folklore. The well- being of their children is of utmost priority. They symbolize their continuity.

 

In all the villages I visited, I was in awe of the women.  They are colorful and beautiful.  In the daily struggle to manage a primitive living, they save intensely for their children's education.  However, with education comes permanent departure from the villages with a resulting stagnation and cultural divide. The aging widows care for each other, occupy themselves in continuing their textile traditions which are now dying, and sell their clothing and jewelry to tourists for a pittance.

 

I treasure and cherish my collection of their clothing and jewelry. It is a connection to these women with whom I empathize. I have reverence for their art, skill, technique which imbues their cloth with their spirituality and tradition.

 

 

Below: The skirt panel below is first decorated with intricate batik designs, dyed indigo, then decorated with red braid.

 

 

 

I had an incredible opportunity to share the beauty of their textile traditions in the exhibition, "Blue Seas:  Asian Indigo Dye", curated by Jinyoung Jin at the Charles B. Wang Cultural Center at Stonybrook University, New York. The Mission of the Wang Center is to foster understanding of Asian and Asian-American Arts and Culture.

 

My work, 'Homage to the Hmong'  was created from the skirts of the Hmong tribes from China, Vietnam, Thailand and indigo cloth from Japan. It includes a variety of batik on indigo cotton cloth, cross stitch embroidery and surface embellishment distinctive to different tribes.

 

For more, read the review of this exhibition in The New York Times by Aileen Jacobson, "Seeing Asian Cultures through Indigo Lens". I was gratified that the image of this work was featured.  

 

Available online:   http://nyti.ms/1epfNTE

 

 

© 2018 by Leonie Castelino