Since arriving in Philadelphia in 1979, Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk Sikoun has distinguished herself as a teacher, organizer, and advocate for Hmong peoples' cultural heritage. Needlework (paj ntaub, story cloths, traditional clothes and artifacts) made by Pang and other women connected through kinship and care will be exhibited in this new exhibition at the Philadelphia Folklore Project, 735 S. 50th Street, in West Philadelphia, opening March 2, 2007 and running through September. The exhibition opening celebration is scheduled on March 2nd, from 5:30 - 7:30 PM, at the Folklore Project.
An artist salon on March 3rd from 10 AM - noon is also planned. At the salon, Pang Xiong Sirirthasuk Sikoun will be joined by Christina Johnson (African American needlework) and Vera Nakonechny (Ukranian needlework) for a roundtable discussion about how diverse women have used traditional crafts and heritage culture to build community, freedom and self-sufficiency. Other salons also also planned, including one on May 5th, from 10 AM - noon, in which Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk Sikoun will teach basic Hmong needlework. All events are free and open to the public.
We try to be strong: 28 years of Hmong textiles in Philadelphia is the second in a series of Folklore Project 20th anniversary exhibitions that explore, in different ways, the current state of folk and traditional arts, and the kinds of stories that might be told about folk arts in Philadelphia over the past two decades.
The items on display in this exhibition offer a sampling of Hmong women's artistry, and the place and utility of folk culture as a resource in the face of war, resettlement, violence and the need to make a home and keep a community together. Some 3000 Hmong people were relocated in Philadelphia in the late 1970s, among the second wave of some 20,000 Southeast Asian immigrants - largely rural people uprooted by war in their homelands and resettled in poor urban neighborhoods where they often faced resentment and violence. Anti-Asian violence was so extreme - a series of brutal attacks in 1984 were the final straw for many - that the majority of Hmong people left the area. Pang Xiong was among those who chose to stay, and her work in culture has been a strategy for sustaining the local Hmong community here, and for making Hmong people's culture, traditions and history better understood to others.
Pang Xiong says, "Hmong people have had to be strong. In the mountains, we never needed help. But to preserve our culture here, we need to help each other. We need people to know us. I want my children and grandchildren to know what I know. And I need other people to know what Hmong people, do, also. That is very important to me, too. If anyone wants to learn more, I am happy to open my door and share what I know." Quite literally, Pang Xiong has kept her door open for 28 years here. Her door has been open when Hmong people needed help in any number of ways. She has organized formal and informal apprenticeships in a range of Hmong traditional arts, needlework, musical traditions, storytelling and more. She has been inviting the public in for her Christmas sales of needlework since her arrival.
Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk Sikoun has long dreamed of a museum of Hmong culture. This sampling of work by local women and from family collections gives a hint both of her vision and of the traditions to which she is so devoted. Some of the works that she has chosen for this exhibition preserve traditional needlework patterns, and are reminders of family and beloved kin, and of her own childhood in rural Laos, before decades of war and dislocation. Other works trace the efforts that she and other women of her age have made over the last 28 years here to introduce Hmong people, culture and history to Philadelphia, and to preserve these traditions as resources for the community's children, and now grandchildren. Displayed are examples of traditional clothing, for everyday and ritual use, embroidered story cloths depicting both folktales and Hmong history (including details of war and immigration), quilts displaying both Hmong paj ntaub patterns and Amish tradition, and other textile works made for sale to the public, as an economic development tool.
We try to be strong includes work by more than 30 Hmong women, representing four generations of textile artists, including Philadelphia-born and bred young people, and their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Some of these women never journeyed here, but their delicately embroidered collars, cuffs and aprons are treasured. Their handwork and memories endure, providing models for patterns and inspiring endless variations on the designs that continue to be produced for family use, and for trade and sale.
We try to be strong: 28 years of Hmong textiles in Philadelphia is an exhibition of the Philadelphia Folklore Project, a 20-year-old public interest folklife organization committed to sustaining significant cultural diversity in our region by programs focusing on the folk and traditional arts of our communities, and on the artists who keep these traditions vital. In addition to an exhibition program, the Folklore Project offers ongoing technical assistance in the folk arts, salons and performances, and documents and preserves the region's folk arts. For more information call 215.726.1106. PFP's exhibitions are made possible by support from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great arts, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and by Philadelphia Folklore Project members. The artist salon on March 3rd is co-sponsored by the Leeway Foundation. For more information, call 215.726.1106 or visit www.folkloreproject.org.