Hmong artist to feature work at CSB exhibit

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November 12, 2018

By Kathryn Sohm '21

artwork of Seexeng Lee

Seexeng Lee is an artist who was raised in a refugee camp in northern Thailand and came of age in Minneapolis.

His exhibit, “Connecting the Broken Threads of the Hmong Paj Ntaub” runs from Nov. 12-Dec. 14 at the Gorecki Gallery at the Benedicta Arts Center, College of Saint Benedict. An artist reception and opening is from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at the Gorecki Gallery, with Lee making a power-point presentation at 6 p.m. at the nearby Gorecki Gallery Lounge.

Gallery hours are from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday. The exhibit, which is part of the Visual Arts Series at CSB and Saint John’s University, is free and open to the public.

His mixed media work reflects his journey from the land of the Mekong to the Mississippi. Lee’s exhibit captures his inspiration flowing from the meeting of two cultures and evolution of the Hmong Paj Ntaub (Hmong Story Cloth) through the mediums of painting, thread work and sculpture.

Lee first discovered his love of art while drawing pictures in the dirt with a stick in the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand. He was inspired by the stories his father told him and used his imagination to bring them to life. When Lee and his family moved to America, he found he could sketch and draw the things he couldn’t say. Art became a comfort for him, though it worried his parents as they didn’t view it as an acceptable career.

After moving to Minnesota, Lee attended Minneapolis Public Schools and received a degree in Studio Art and Art Education from Augsburg College (now Augsburg University) in 1997. Since art is perceived as an impractical career in Hmong culture, Lee became an art teacher to make a living and live out his passion for art. He quickly became “an increasingly influential voice in the Hmong community,” according to his website.

Though his parents were weary of his career choices, Lee has found great success through his artwork due to his individual viewpoint.

“I believe my experience with living through many generations and seeing the blending of the two cultures, both Hmong and American, I have a very unique perspective of both worlds. Because I can understand and appreciate the older Hmong generation and the new young Hmong-American generation, I am able to convey a kind of art that speaks to both,” Lee writes on his website.

Lee’s unique blend of American and Hmong culture greatly influence his work, along with how his Hmong culture has adapted change since coming to Minnesota. Through his art, he has been able to learn about his own heritage as well as inspire Hmong youths to get in touch with their culture and learn what it means to be Hmong.

“I love this quote from Seexeng Lee ­­– ‘Some say living with a collision of two cultures is a burden, but I find it a blessing in disguise,’ ” CSB/SJU gallery manager Jill Dubbeldee Kuhn said. “Through his art, he discovered the richness of his heritage and this fuels his desire to share, teach and preserve Hmong tradition.”

Currently, Lee is an art teacher at the Blake School. Some of his recent commissions include murals for Wadena, the St. Paul Dragon Festival, Concordia University and the Northpoint Wellness Center.