Stitched onto a bright purple tapestry is what looks like a typical suburban landscape. The scene is adorned with handcrafted images of a McDonald's, a children's playground and a bright yellow school bus coming down the street.
But with a closer look, a different story emerges. A few of the residents are having a hard time fitting into this middle American community at the hands of unwelcoming neighbors. Embroidered phrases like "your food smells weird" and "you need to better your English" reveal the true nature of what's being depicted.
As part of a collection titled "The Stories We Carry," the tapestry illustrates the experience of an immigrant in America through microaggressions and other hardships.
Much of Ger Xiong's work explores this intersection of art and storytelling. The Minneapolis-based artist and maker uses textiles, metals and jewelry to create physical depictions of his experiences as a Hmong American, and to preserve the greater history of his cultural identity.
Xiong was born in a refugee camp in Thailand; his family immigrated to the United States in 1993. He grew up primarily in the Midwest, but his passions for art and craftsmanship have taken him all over the world. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for his bachelor of fine arts, and later earned a master's degree from New Mexico State University. In 2019 and 2020, Xiong spent 10 months silversmithing and creating textile work alongside Hmong crafters in Chiang Mai, Thailand, as part of a Fulbright Fellowship.
"A lot of what I'm interested in is collecting my family's history, as well as telling our narratives," he says.
To do so, Xiong's work often explores his Hmong American identity through the lenses of assimilation, navigating dominant spaces and the resilience of Hmong people.
In "Coca-Cola Series" and "Starbucks Series," Xiong decorated a collection of soda cans and coffee cup sleeves with intricate patterns of brightly colored embroidery thread. The outcome is a powerful visual metaphor: Adding Hmong elements to American-made brands represents the resilience of Hmong culture within a dominant society.
The fluorescent colors, repeated spiral patterns and other traditional Hmong design elements can be found in many of Xiong's works. He uses this historic style and non-mechanized processes in conjunction with modern crafting tools, like embroidery and sewing machines, to emphasize the effects of globalization over the years. "A lot of the work has become more manufactured, and a lot of these pieces aren't hand-produced anymore," Xiong says.
Xiong's work has been shown in exhibitions across the country, and he's currently focused on collaborating with other Hmong artists in Minnesota. Overall, he hopes to inform audiences about Hmong culture and identity, while also encouraging them to find their own connections to his craft.
"A lot of the work is pretty educational, but also, a lot of it is about listening, seeing and acknowledging histories and cultures within the American dominant space," he says.