Spiritual Journeys on Cloth by Hmong Artist Tcheu Siong

Spiritual Journeys on Cloth by Hmong Artist Tcheu Siong
A 56 year-old Tcheu Siong sewing her textile (photo: APT9)

The German Embassy, on 2 May, became a canvas for the artistry of Tcheu Siong, a 56-year-old Hmong textile artist from Luang Prabang Province. Her unique textiles, adorned with spirits and dreams, captured the imagination of guests from all walks of life, reflecting the journey from a young dreamer to a globally recognized talent.

Tcheu Siong’s journey as an artist began at the tender age of 13 when she started to express her thoughts through the medium of cloth. Drawing inspiration from her dreams, her creations are imbued with characters she believes are spirits tasked with protecting households. Living alongside her shaman husband, the Hmong artist’s connection to the spirit world deeply influences her work, fueling her imagination and creativity.

One of Tcheu Song’s work shown at the German Embassy

“All the images and stuff I put on the cloth usually come from my dream,” Tcheu shared, highlighting the influence of her dreams on her art. “People of my kind don’t usually find my art that amusing, but my clothes sure attract a lot of foreigners with keen eyes,” she added, reflecting on the reception of her art within her community and abroad.

Despite initial reservations from her community, Tcheu’s art began to gain recognition, especially among foreign admirers. Her breakthrough came in 2010 when her work was first exhibited in Luang Prabang. 

“It all began when my arts were put on display in the first exhibition of my work in Luang Prabang organized by Jean-Pierre Dovat and Rik Gadella in their Project Space Gallery in December 2010,” she recalled, highlighting the pivotal moment in her career.

Since then, her textiles have been showcased at events such as the Singapore Biennale in 2016, the Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane in 2018, the Asian Art Biennial in Taiwan in 2019, and the Gwangju Biennale in 2020. 

Reflecting on her rise to fame, Tcheu humbly acknowledges that she had anticipated some level of success. “Yes, it wouldn’t be so honest to me if I said I didn’t expect it at all, but I do appreciate all the love and support to all of those who could see the value in my arts,” she said.

The soul judge (middle) and the leaf spirits (left and right)

Each of her creations tells a story, with elements representing different spirits and their unique characteristics. One of her paintings, which remains unnamed, features a black figure symbolizing a soul judge and green and yellow figures representing leaf ghosts, illustrating her deep spiritual connection.

As a host for the event, the German Ambassador Annette Knobloch expressed her pride and gratitude to be able to accommodate the contemporary arts.

“I would have loved to have looked at Tschai’s artwork or the artwork of other contemporary artists back then, but as we are all aware, there is no location, and no museum for contemporary art where Lao artists can exhibit permanently,” she said.

“That is why I am happy that two and a half years later, we [the German Embassy] can now fill this gap, at least for one evening, and offer the traditions of the Hmong and in particular Tschai Siong’s art a place to appreciate their creativity and artistic expression.”

As Tcheu Siong contemplates her next destination, possibly Japan, her journey as an artist continues to evolve. Her textiles, once expressions of personal thoughts and dreams, now captivate audiences around the world. Through her art, Tcheu Siong not only preserves the cultural heritage of the Hmong people but also invites those who can appreciate her work to explore the realms of spirituality and creativity, one stitch at a time.