UW-Whitewater alum and Hmong artist Ger Xiong loves that he can contribute to his culture with his artwork.
“What I really wanted to do … was document our history within the United States with objects,” Xiong says.
Using multiple mediums such as metalworking, textile work, and cross-stitching, Xiong creates pieces that describe his Hmong-American experience and how Hmong people navigate dominant spaces. The colors and symbols he uses come from traditional Hmong crafts.
“A lot of the narratives I tell are through my and my family’s migration, and how I’m going through different spaces as a Hmong person, an American person, and a Hmong-American person,” he says.
Xiong primarily focuses on creating objects that can document Hmong history. Among many things, Xiong’s work includes traditional Hmong jewelry, which can represent spiritual protection, signify a family’s wealth, and distinguish different tribes and regions. He also makes story cloths, which are flat textile surfaces that show visual narratives of Hmong history.
Taking a break during his time in graduate school at New Mexico State University, Xiong went to Thailand, the country where he was born. He was there as part of a Fulbright educational exchange program that helped him learn techniques directly from Hmong artists. He also cites his mother, college education, and workshops as learning points for Hmong art.
To create a new piece, Xiong sketches, reflects on previous pieces, and segments out different parts of a potential project. He is currently working on a piece that involves using replica colonial French Indochina coins.
“Hmong silversmiths … will melt these silver coins down to make our jewelry,” Xiong says. “I find that power dynamic of melting down something with power and reassembling it into something else very fascinating.”
Xiong is driven to create new art by his appreciation of documentation and history.
“One day, these pieces of artwork are going to outlive us and they’re going to pass down, and people from different generations are going to see them,” Xiong says. “I find that lineage very interesting.”
Check out more of Xiong’s art on Instagram at @gerxiong55 and gerxiong.com. Xiong currently has a piece in the Trout Museum of Art for their Contemporary Art Exhibition, which runs through August 14. He also has a pendant-making event at the Elisha D. Smith Public Library in Menasha at 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 27.