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Reinterpreting the Paj Ntaub (story cloth): A Retrospectrum from a Hmong American

Mellisa Lee

Oil on Canvas, Video, Audio, 2022

My project is based on traditional Hmong story cloths called—Paj Ntaub (pahn-dau), which are embroidered records of the Hmong people’s history of war, persecution, genocide, and immigration. Using oil paint, I reinterpret what the story cloth would look like for future first-generation Hmong-Americans like myself. My painting depicts the Hmong diaspora and the untold historical events of America’s “Secret War” in Laos, which has become the world’s most bombed country in history as a result. I connect the paintings to personal memoirs of my parent’s journey as refugees escaping genocide, while navigating the many experiences that contribute to what makes up my own identity today. The project serves as an archival means to preserve Hmong history and think deeper about the differentialities beyond race by looking into distinct cultures within ethnic minority and indigenous groups. By telling stories about the intergenerational trauma that has havocked our families and communities at large, I hope to bring more awareness to the struggle of the Hmong people and what it means to sustain our original identities, while assimilating into America. This large-scale painting is broken up into nine separate paintings, each corresponding to an audio transcript that is included within a timelapse video.