JBU Opens "Cloth as Community: Hmong Textiles of America" Exhibit

SILOAM SPRINGS, Arkansas (Feb. 14, 2019) – John Brown University will open the exhibit, "Cloth as Community: Hmong Textiles in America," with a reception on Thursday, Feb. 21, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Windgate Visual Art West Gallery. The reception will feature local Hmong community guest speakers and will serve traditional Hmong dishes.

The "Cloth as Community: Hmong Textiles in America," exhibit includes 28 textiles like flower cloths and embroidered story clothes that have been made by the Hmong community. Despite its deep roots in Hmong culture, Hmong textile production is a complex art that was not widely known outside Asia until after the Vietnam War, when Hmong refugees arrived in the United States.

The works in this exhibit illustrate the profound relevance of textiles in the Hmong culture and how the art form shifted as it adapted to fit new realities.

Traditionally, Hmong women produced complex clothing that established clan identity through abstract geometric designs, created by embroidery, appliqué, reverse appliqué and indigo batik. Textiles in village life were not sold but held important spiritual protections and were created for family and ceremonial use. 

In refugee camps and beyond, the sale of textiles generated important income for families, and this creation of textiles for commerce brought on changes to this centuries-old art form. As the memory of the Vietnam War receded and American buyers required more upbeat subjects, many of the story cloth subjects morphed into representations of a new life in America or nostalgia for the pastoral life like animals in a jungle, scenes of village life or illustrated Hmong folk tales with English text.

Organized and toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national part of Mid-America Arts Alliance, Carl Magnuson, a cultural anthropologist, first curated the exhibition in 1999 by working with a Hmong refugee community. Geraldine Craig, who is the department head of art at Kansas State University and has published more than 100 essays on contemporary art and Hmong textiles, made recent curatorial updates.

The exhibit will be on display until Friday, March 15. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. or by special arrangement. The reception and the exhibit are free and open to the public. For further information, contact the JBU Visual Arts Department at 479-238-8561 or at jbu.edu/art/gallery/.

John Brown University is a leading private Christian university, training students to honor God and serve others since 1919. Arkansas’ top-ranked regional university (U.S. News Best Colleges, 2019), JBU enrolls more than 2,100 students from 38 states and 53 countries in its traditional undergraduate, graduate, online and concurrent education programs. JBU offers more than 40 majors, with top programs including engineering, nursing, family and human services, biology, graphic design and construction management. 

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