Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk Sikoun
A native of Xieng Khouang province in central Laos, Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk Sikoun came to Philadelphia in 1979. She was among the tens of thousands of refugee Hmong who fled the communist-backed Pathet Lao government following years of war in Southeast Asia. The unwritten history of the Hmong people is rich in stories about the past, family relationships, and the environment. The intricate textile art known as paj ntaub (flower cloth, or story cloth) encodes much of this knowledge. Ms. Sirirathasuk, master paj ntaub artist, has been active in encouraging other Hmong women to maintain this art, and is dedicated to passing it on to the next generation. She has taught paj ntaub and other Hmong arts to young people in museums, at the Smithsonian folklife festival, and in community settings.
Ms. Sirirathasuk had a strong sense of identity and duty. In the refugee camps in Thailand in 1975-1977, she taught arts, crafts, costume, and manners. In Philadelphia, she was a motivating force behind traditional Hmong celebrations of New Year, weddings, births, and the commemoration of the Hmong people's departure from Laos. Ms. Sirirathasuk has also taught local Hmong young people kwv txhiaj, beautiful rhymed poetry exchanged back and forth between two "singers" in contests or courting. She is responsible for many cultural initiatives among community members, and has been honored for her work by awards from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Leeway Foundation and with a Pew Fellowship.
As a teacher and artist, she guided the Folklife Center of International House's innovative Hmong Community Documentation Project from 1984-1986. In 1980 and 1986, she presented paj ntaub, storytelling, foodways, and Hmong culture at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She was included in Philadelphia Folklore Project exhibitions in 1992 and curated “We Try to be Strong” in 2006. She has also been represented in exhibitions and crafts fairs locally and regionally.
For PFP's 2012 Community Supported Art (CSA) program, Ms Sirirathasuk Sikoun created baby carriers (nyas), deeply significant garments. Various Hmong peoples (Green Hmong, Striped Hmong White Hmong) each had their own traditional patterns, executed in applique, reverse applique, and with hand-made pompons and other decorations. Ms Sirirathasuk Sikoun treasures one which she has kept for more than sixty years: "I cry every time I see this. Before I left home, my mother made me one baby carrier. A mother is supposed to make one baby carrier for each of her grandchildren, but my mother was only able to make one, because we were separated and because of the war. But I always kept this."
Folk Arts of Social Change (FASC)
We Try to Be Strong: 28 Years of Hmong Textiles in Philadelphia