The artistic textile tradition of Paj Ntaub of the Hmong culture, is an amazing example of how a specific culture’s art evolves and grows with the group’s experiences. Today there are over 270,000 Hmong people living in the United States and they have a cultural history full of struggle and intense tradition that is reflected in their artwork.
Historically living in farming communities in the mountains of Southeast Asia, during the Vietnam War many Hmong in Laos served as allies to the U.S. and worked with the CIA to stop the movement of the Viet Cong. When the U.S. lost the war, Hmong were as a result persecuted by the communist government and forced to flee their land to live on refugee camps in Thailand. Beginning in 1975 the U.S. began granting asylum to Hmong refugees to come live in America. (More on Hmong History)
The artistic tradition of Paj NTaub (pronounced Pan-Dow) means “Flower Cloth” and is a traditional form Hmong textile work that combines embroidery and reverse appliqué techniques. These were used to form geometric patterns in fabric that have had specific symbolic meanings. As the Hmong faced the upheaval of war and immigration, their textile traditions have both provided a link for Hmong Americans to continue perpetuating their culture, as well as evolving to encompass new experiences. While in the refugee camps in Thailand, Paj Ntaub techniques evolved and artists began creating Story Cloths, embroidered picture textiles that illustrate experiences of the Hmong people, from scenes of agricultural life into images of the war and their exile from Laos.
Learning about Hmong textile traditions would be an interesting way not only to give voice to the artwork of a growing American ethnic group, but also an example of how stories can be told through art.
This video illustrates Hmong American relationship to Paj Ntaub: