‘Hmong Songs of Memory, Hmong Threads of Life: Secular & Sacred Music & Textiles’, an all-new exhibition by American researcher, writer and film maker Victoria Vorreiter, is open for all to enjoy at Tamarind Village Chiang Mai in Thailand.
The exhibition explores the music and textile traditions of the Hmong, an ethnic minority that originated in Siberia and Mongolia and migrated into southwest China and the mountainous areas of southeast Asia including Laos, Thailand and Vietnam over many centuries.
The Hmong’s astonishingly complex social structure, communal mores, spiritual beliefs, oral and music traditions as well as their textile arts, all reflect the richness of their culture. Rites of passage and life lessons were taught in song while status and identity were traced to adornment and the patterns of their intricately embroidered clothing.
The exhibition comprises rare photographs taken by Vorreiter over a decade on her numerous research trips to remote Hmong villages, documenting little-known shamanic rituals, daily life scenes and offering striking ethnographic portraits of a proud and diverse people. In addition to the photographs, there are a fascinating number of rare artefacts on display alongside musical instruments which highlight the essential but little-known role of music in Hmong religious and secular rites of passage. Vivid accounts of Hmong musicians, shamans, healers, ritual specialists, headmen, and villagers reveal the primal power of secular music in celebrating the wheel of life and the celestial cycle of seasons. Sacred music is presented through the prism of a full shamanic healing ceremony and explored through such themes as ‘Hmong Origins’, ‘Shamanism’, ‘Spirits’, ‘Souls’, ‘Hmong Cosmology’ and ‘The Sacred in the Human World’.
‘Hmong Songs of Memory, Hmong Threads of Life’ also sets out to examine the rich textile traditions of the Hmong, whose various sub-groups (Blue, Black, White and Striped) are named for the predominant color of their costumes. The Hmong have long been renowned for their skills in embroidery, appliqué and batik and items such as woman’s hemp skirts, baby caps, baby carriers served to indicate status and identity within the extended community. Vorreiter’s collection of Hmong costumes and beautifully-crafted textiles are also on view with descriptions that highlight the differences between each group’s dress and style of adornment, bringing the subjects to life in intimate and insightful ways.
Vorreiter, a trained classical musician and former lecturer at DePaul University School of Music in Chicago, turned her attention to the primal role music plays in traditional cultures more than a decade ago and her passion for the subject inspired the next phase of her life’s journey: taking her on treks to remote parts of Thailand, Laos, China and Myanmar in order to document and study the little known music of the region’s tribal peoples.
In 2009, Vorreiter published her book ‘Songs of Memory’, along with a CD of ancestral songs before turning her attention to an in-depth study of Hmong music and culture, which resulted in the publication of the beautifully illustrated ‘Hmong Songs of Memory’ book, along with a 75 minute ethnographic film, that explores the Hmong vocal and instrumental musical heritage in the context of their ancestral beliefs, traditions, and rituals. The lyrics of all vocal and instrumental pieces are cited in the film and book in both the Hmong and English languages making the work a precious preserve of knowledge of the group’s fast-disappearing musical traditions.
The exhibition is on display until 30 April 2017 at Tamarind Village located in the heart of Chiang Mai’s old town, and forms part of the property’s ongoing efforts to foster awareness and appreciation of local culture and bring its appeal to a wider audience.