What is The Fresh Traditions Fashion Show?
As someone who recently moved to the Twin Cities, I believe that Fresh Traditions (FT) is hidden gem in the Midwest. FT is a community and arts program founded in 2006 by Kathy Mouacheupao, the previous director of the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent ( http://www.aboutchat.org/). FT highlights the importance of culture, creativity and originality in fashion design while exploring Hmong history and traditions through fabrics. This year Fresh Traditions is turning 10, how many Hmong arts programming can you name that has been consistent and lasted this long?
So Why Should You Be Interested In This Show?
My thought processes in making art involves lots of research, conversations and experimentation. I believe there's much to learn from being a participant and observer. I attended my first Fresh Traditions Fashion show in September of 2015. This show is a nationally known platform for Hmong designers to collectively challenge and be challenged by design, community and identities. It's the intersection where thinkers, makers and artists have complete freedom of expression.
As a visual artist who works to provoke and redefine Hmong American experiences, I always knew that I would attend this show one day. I believe this show is not exclusively only for designers, it is a platform for Hmong people to explore and bring their stories, history and culture to the forefront. It is an ongoing investigation on how to have conversations about our experiences, through art and design.
I can't stress how important this show is to the Hmong people because at large FT is an outlet to challenge people to think of Hmong textiles beyond it's aesthetics. For instance, Google the word “Hmong” and what do you see in the image search results? Majority of what's represented are Hmong women in their ethnic clothing. No doubt these pictures are beautiful, but I think Hmong can be experienced and represented in so many different ways.
Traditions And The Hmong Women's Body Through Arts and Crafts
The reason why I Google search “Hmong” every year is because for those who are not Hmong, for those who have never heard or seen “Hmong” before, the internet is the first place many people will experience other people's cultures and history. When I see Hmong textiles I think about the process and the figures who create these works. I think about the tradition of Hmong women embodying textile crafts. I think about my mother, grandmother, aunts, sisters, I think about Hmong women. So when designers who are Hmong and non-Hmong incorporate Hmong textiles and symbols into their works, are the works about aesthetics or about the history and traditions that embodies the Hmong women's experiences? Are artists and designers eradicating the female body from Paj Ntaub, fabrics and Hmong history for commercial gain? Are aesthetics desensitizing thousands of years of tradition, processes, and history to make something look pretty?
Fashion is such a white world. Heck, in advertising all you ever see are white people represented, Google the word "Fashion" you'll see what I mean. I also think there are very few programming for people of color. To connect the traditional fabric to the body from which it came creates a different experience for people. It reminds people not to erase the body from the experience of clothing and culture.
These are the questions that run through my mind as I see makers, artists and designers engage in Hmong visually. I want to encourage everyone to step back and really think about appropriation and what people are producing. Does what you are seeing and consuming represent who you are.
HOW TO APPLY
With this said, Fresh Tradition's application for the 10th show ends tomorrow, January 31st. The best way to engage in these conversations is to be apart of the venues that are able and willing to elevate ideas and creativity. So apply, join the conversation, and participate by attending the show.
Fresh Traditions X: Call for Designers