Stitching Our Stories
Stitching Our Stories: A Community Research Project was launched in September 2012 through the partnership of PhotoForward, an international media arts organisation, and the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre. This trail-blazing project engaged women and girls from Laos’ diverse ethnic communities to use photography, digital video, and community research to explore their unique cultural heritage, the vital roles that women play, and the often-seismic impact that modernization is having on traditional beliefs and practices.
Through learning basic photography and ethnographic skills, young ethnic women were empowered to capture and document the rich stories of diligence, family bonds, ambition, industry, sacrifice, and dedication present within their communities. This inspiring project built the skills and confidence of these young, curious women as they investigated and reflected on their culture and revitalization of ethnic traditions and identity. Read below to learn more :
The Stitching Our Stories project was broken into three terms per year: the first focused on photography skills, the second on interviewing and video skills, and the third on independent research.
In its inaugural year, the project focused on the lives of Hmong women at the night market. They explored themes such as women at work, shamanism, traditional medicine, and childhood and parenthood. During the second year, the project expanded to include Tai Dam, Tai Lue, Phounoi, and Kmhmu ethnic groups. Their work focused on women at rest, at play, and at work; traditional papermaking; the practice of sitting by the fire after childbirth; and weaving.
The third year of Stitching Our Stories took place in Spring 2015, when TAEC successfully applied to join the Map Your World initiative. With five Nexus tablets and the Map Your World Platform, the SOS Community Researchers interviewed, photographed, and mapped women selling handicrafts in the Luang Prabang Night Market, their earnings, products, family makeup, and experiences to track how handicraft sales have affected their lives and incomes. The results of this research, and profiles of our Community Researchers are on the Map Your World Site here.
To learn more about this project, please visit PhotoForward’s page.
In 2013, the Stitching Our Stories programme compiled four documentary shorts shot by the projects’ filmmakers Bao Song, Pasong Lee, Sia Yao, and Mai Ying into a 50-minute film. The film examines the intricate artistry of Hmong batik and embroidery and the complex and often challenging roles of the medicine women and shamans who care for the bodies and spirits of their communities. It opens with a brief introduction by the project organizers, and each short is prefaced with an interview with the inspiring filmmakers themselves. You can watch the full film as well as the shorts on YouTube.
Their research films serve as valuable documents of ancient cultural practices with deep roots in the community’s identity as well as intimate portraits of the modern Lao women and men who have dedicated their lives to learning and refining their crafts.
This film premiered at the Luang Prabang Film Festival, and the shorts were shown in the Durham Women’s Rising Film Festival and the Angkor Film Festival as well as screened at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women as part of the Women’s Caucus for Art.
Caregivers to Culture Keepers: Stories from Women in a Changing Laos
September 2014 – August 2016
Developed with the Stitching Our Stories community researchers, Caregivers to Culture Keepers: Stories from Women in a Changing Laos shares the lives of women in Laos today. With photographs, documentary videos, and objects the exhibition explores themes of work, family, health, heritage and handicrafts as recorded by girls and women in Northern Laos.
The Community Researchers were integral in framing the exhibition themes, and along with other SOS participants provided the content for the exhibition. Seven short videos present interviews with women in the Hmong and Tai Lue communities on varied topics including a Hmong medicine woman, early childcare in Laos, Hmong batik, Tai Lue weaving, Shamans, and Hmong embroidery.
We hope that having their work displayed so prominently within our museum will empower young women to take pride in their roles and importance in the community, embolden Lao youth to explore their own cultural traditions, and encourage Lao to honor their cultural heritage. If you would like to host the Caregivers to Culture Keepers exhibition, please contact us!