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"Seexeng is a recognized artist and a passionate educator. His work is recognized nationally for its beauty, its power and its mythic hold on meaning. Specifically, what it means to be Hmong in America and through time. Seexeng's work is a testament to the passion and perseverance of a community that has come a long ways to today and continues on a road that will lead us to places weve never been."

- Kao Kalia Yang - (Author of "The Latehomecomer", by Coffee House Press. 2008)
Latest Event
2015 Legacy Day Mural

2015 Legacy Day Mural

The Blake School

The tunnel linking the Hopkins Lower School to the Middle School is undergoing a colorful transformation thanks to art teacher Seexeng Lee and a group of Blake student-artists. Look for more on this project in the months to come! (Video by Nadia Lee) [read more]

Post on: June 8, 2015 9:56:00 AM

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Hmong Times Articles

Hmong Times Articles

Post on: June 26, 2015 8:17:51 AM

About Face at the Minnetonka Art Center
By Amy Doeun


Thursday, February 24th, the Minnesota Museum of American Art, opened its exhibit of portrait art at the Minnetonka Art Center, "About Face.". Present at the opening were 2 of Minnesota's newest artists, Kao Choua Vue and Kao Na "Raynie" Vang. Both of these artists site the St. Paul youth/art organization "In Progress" for helping them in their craft.

Raynie Vang added a poem to her self portrait, "this face/is not/perfect/but/it is/ mine/ it tells the story of/ where I come from/ and who I belong to/ it shows the real/ beauty/ of/ being/ Hmong.

Kristin Makholm, executive director for the museum explained how she selected the pieces. "I was familiar with the work that In Progress does because of exhibition at the McKnight Center. I saw some really fine work by young artists and picked these 2 pieces."

At the 2nd gallery opening on Sunday February 27 Seexeng Lee attended with his family. His piece, "Hmong Icon," a gold leaf portrait of General Vang Pao was included in the show. The piece includes the signature of the General as well as members of the SGU unit and community members wishing the best for the General him.

Lee told HMONG TIMES, "The piece was meant for him." However, now that he has passed away, "I will keep it in my family, our possession. I won't sell it to a private party." Lee said that when the Museum of American Art approached him about including it in their show, he originally questioned the decision. But sited the decision to include new and emerging artists in the exhibit as helping him to decide that it was the right fit for his piece. "I get to have it next to a Warhol, how cool is that."

Other artists in the show include Gordon Parks, Wing Young Huie and sculptor Paul Manship.

Kristin Makholm, executive director of the museum told the nearly 70 people gathered Sunday afternoon for the gallery talk, "St. Paul is in the roots of a lot of what we show." She pointed out specific pieces and shed light on why they were displayed the way they were. "How it intersects with the other art around it ... it is a joy to bring it [the show] out and put it in the center."

Makholm told HMONG TIMES, "This museum is dedicated to representing all the artists from St. Paul and the east metro. It is important to represent the Hmong community and its new artists."

The show runs through March 26 and is open Monday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. It is open until 8:00 p.m. on Thursday and closed Sundays. It is free and open to the public.

The address is:
Minnetonka Center for the Arts
2230 North Shore Dr.
Wayzata, MN.

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MN Mosaic Hosts Conversation on the Hmong
By Amy Doeun


Thursday, September 16th, "a small, intimate group" gathered at the Wentworth Meeting room at the Dakota County Library in West St. Paul. The event was sponsored by MN Mosaic, a fund set up by Minnesota voters to celebrate Minnesota's Art and Cultural Heritage.

Lee Pao Xiong, of the Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia and Seexeng Lee, artist and art educator joined Paul Hillmer, author of A People's History of the Hmong and shared with those gathered. Hillmer said of the group, "I like this small group and intimate conversation format ... Our task here tonight is to really have a conversation, which is really exciting."

The conversation began with both Xiong and Lee sharing a story that they remembered from their childhoods.

Xiong said, "I grew up in Laos (born in 1966), I grew up in a CIA operated military camp. You wouldn't see it on a map, yet it was the busiest airport in Laos." He went on to say his memories of the time revolve around, "village life - the interaction, interdependency, sense of community, sense of family. In America when you talk about sense of community you talk about neighborhoods - we talked about people."

Lee was born in Laos in 1975, "right after the U.S. pulled out. My father was one of the lower ranking officers. Only high ranking officers were moved (out of Laos) and low ranking officers were left to fend for ourselves. My father had 12 of us; 2 girls and 10 boys." By 1979 they had made it to the camps in Thailand and in 1984 they moved to the U.S. He said of the journey to Thailand, "The journey was traumatic, but they didn't make it traumatic for us [the younger children] ... For me, Hmong culture revolves around the family, culture and traditions. It's adaptable to new environments. You have to adjust to new settings, constant moving and constant changing."

The conversation continued as Xiong and Lee shared their stories and understanding for the history in the area.

Hillmer asked a key question, "How do a people who are isolated from the rest of Laos get pulled into this war? A people whose culture did not include the wheel or a written language, at the time." Hillmer added that, "The Americans were looking for a group of people to help them police this area and keep out the communists." Even though they didn't have the wheel or written language, "29 men learned to fly planes, men became medics and women nurses."

During this time, according to Hillmer, North Vietnam was sending somewhere around 35,000 of their best soldiers into Laos to fight the Hmong and other ethnic groups fighting on the side of the U.S. "58,000 Americans died in Vietnam, how many more would have died without Hmong involvement?"

Lee's father went on several rescue missions for downed American pilots, "alive or dead." "My father simply said that his role was to rescue American pilots. The lower ranking officers did it to protect the family, they thought they were fighting to protect the village, they didn't see the big picture ... They would risk 30-40 Hmong lives for one American."

Xiong added, "We were used by the Americans and used by our leaders to elevate their positions in society. I tell orphans if your father died believing that he was fighting for his country we will just leave it at that."

The stories continued as Xiong and Lee talked about life in refugee camps and moving to America. There was ample time for questions from the audience ... a conversation.
http://hmongtimes.com/main.asp?SectionID=31&SubSectionID=190&ArticleID=2800&TM=44691.42

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Seexeng Lee Commemorates Hmong Culture & Gen. Vang Pao's Birthday Through Art
By Amy Doeun

7/14/2010


Back in January or February of this year Blia Vue, a board member at Lao Family Community, approached artist Seexeng Lee with the idea of commemorating the Hmong experience and the 80th birthday of General Vang Pao.

Seexeng jokingly told HMONG TIMES, "It's a good thing she approached me then. After that I got so busy I probably would have turned her down." But he didn't, and over the next couple months he began to formulate an idea of how to honor a man and a community.

Lee's signature style calls for "authenticity" and often includes, "direct contribution [from community members] - it is more authentic then my interpretation." So, while the work of setting up the 2 paintings, "Hmong Icon" and "35th Anniversary," began several months before the July 4th Freedom celebration, the community really got involved beginning July 1st at the opening celebration.

For the piece, "Hmong Icon" Lee began with a 3D gold leaf sculpture of the head of General Vang Pao. This portion of the piece had actually been completed in 2008 and was just waiting for the perfect opportunity. He then backed the sculpture on 3 layers, black, gold, then black again. The general himself signed the first level of the painting at the July 1st opening celebration.

The gold level was reserved for 80 donors who offered $80 to support the cost of the piece. The black portion fit several hundred names and features community members as young as Seexeng's daughter Melodie and as old as Mai Moua, the 90 year old widow of Mr. Vang Chai Doua. "This truly celebrates the man; is truly from us; and truly authenticates our experience." Lee added that he felt it was important to honor the General while he is still living. "He is like a father to us."

For "35th Anniversary" 105 individuals colored small tiles. Lee had arranged the tiles ahead of time and drawn the black outline. Each participant was given a tile and told they could decorate it however they wanted, but not to cover the lines. Chai Lee commemorated forever his campaign for Senate. Another young man decorated his piece with a rainbow flag and the word "gay."

"It's about us past, present and future," Lee said, adding that the painting is summed up with the word "peb." "I wanted to authentically capture us."

On July 3rd Seexeng Lee made an announcement at the opening celebration. People worked on the tiles until around 6:00. There was also space for signatures around the border of the piece. The completed piece will be donated to Lao Family. "It provides a greater range of Hmong experience then I have seen before. We have our own voice."

Another new part of this process is recording the photos and names of those who participated. For more information about the process and to see a video of General Vang Pao signing the painting or more of Seexeng's work go to www.seexeng.com.

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[11/4/2009]
Seexeng Lee Featured in Forecast Public Art's "Outdoor/Indoor Art"
By Amy Doeun

For 30 years now Forecast Public Art has been providing resources to artists and consumers of art as well. Its mission reads, "Our mission is to strengthen and advance the field of public art locally, nationally and internationally by expanding participation, supporting artists, informing audiences and assisting communities."

One way that Forecast does this is through an annual art exhibit in collaboration with Hennepin County. A multicultural committee through the county helps to arrange the show. Melinda Childs, consultant and grants manager for Forecast said of the artists selected, "They are trying to serve all their constituents throughout the county." The theme for the exhibit, is "Outdoor/Indoor Art," and features artists from a variety of backgrounds including African American, Latino, and South Pacific Islanders. The artists contributed both "indoor" and "outdoor" pieces. Seexeng Lee is featured prominently.

Peter Brabson, an intern at Forecast and the curator for the exhibit which is on display at the Hennepin County Government Building has been involved with the arts for a long time either as an artist or curator. He said of art, "We all need to do something to make life more positive, art can create a dialogue between cultures and ages and lead to discussions about other relevant matters."

One initiative supported by this art exhibit is a drive to reduce graffiti. "The same skills can be used to go to school and become graphic designers. It can lead to something that can be productive," Brabson said.

Brabson said that he found Seexeng Lee on the internet and was impressed with his images.

Seexeng chose his outdoors piece "Immigration Emotion," "because I feel that we, as Americans, one of the greatest group of people on this earth could never be reminded enough that this great country of ours came to fruition, because we are a country of immigrants. Immigrants with a great work ethic, strong cultural heritage who seek new opportunity with all cylinders running. I also believe that we need to be reminded that we all have traveled the same path, dealt with the same struggles and experienced the same sort of successes. The only thing that separated us was generations, time and space."

The indoor pieces for Lee include, "US." He said, "I included this piece to enhance this belief of mine (Proud of my heritage, proud to be an American, knows what it means to be an American, love the ideals of individual and collective effort.) It serves as another reminder that "US" stands for United States and or us - that we are who we are because it took all of us to make this nation of ours great, and thus we ought to never forget it."

The exhibit will be on display through November 28th at the Hennepin County Government building in downtown Minneapolis. For more information go to the Forecast website at www.forecastpublicart.org

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4/22/2009
Growing Hmong Community at Augsburg College Educates Campus Community
By Amy Doeun

The number of Hmong students at Augsburg College in Minneapolis is steadily growing. Pa Dao Yang, sophomore and treasurer of the Pan-Asian Student club, said that she thinks there are about 20 or more students of Hmong descent attending Augsburg. Penh Lo, Director of Pan-Asian student services said there are 217 students of Asian descent. Students of color make up at 21% of the student population. For Asian Heritage Month the students at Augsburg have set out to educate their community. Lo said, "This is the first year the students are doing major campus wide programs." Lo who has been with Augsburg for about a year, said, "I inherited a good group of students."

The students have arranged discussion panels, educational programs, and a comedy/variety show. Pa Dao Yang said, "Not a lot of students here know about the Hmong." On Monday April 6th Seexeng Lee helped to educate the campus community with his lecture entitled, "Exploring Hmong Identities through the Arts."

Yang shared that that Mr. Lee was her art teacher when she attended Patrick Henry High School, "I joined the Asian club and he was the advisor. He helped all types of students in the classroom. He didn't stand over us, he sat beside us. I didn't see many Asian faculty and to have Mr. Lee, a Hmong faculty [member], had a huge impact on me.

Seexeng Lee then shared a video that his wife Iriya Lee had produced using a quote about Seexeng from Kao Kalia Yang saying, "[His art] has a mythic hold on meaning, specifically what it means to be Hmong ... it is a testament to the passion and perseverance of a community that has come a long way to today."

Lee is an alum of Augsburg and while he has given similar lectures on Hmong Identity and Art as far away as University of Wisconsin, Madison; he said its great to be back home. "I'm very proud to be an Auggie, I think I will always be an Auggie, I think I will die an Auggie." Dr. Kerry Morgan, the gallery coordinator at Augsburg, attended the lecture. Currently Lee's work is featured in the art gallery at Augsburg.

Lee began his lecture by sharing a brief history of the Hmong people including new research about their point of origin. Lee then shared a little bit about his art, which Kao Kalia Yang called, "the new Paj Ntaub," and other current artists. He included how the identity of Hmong is interwoven into art saying, "My hope has been that through art pieces I will get the next and future Hmong generations to see the importance of preserving the Hmong identity ... especially our arts and our language ... the very things that we have practiced for centuries. At the same time I was hoping for others (Non-Hmong) as a direct result from having heard my story, seen my work to then look deeper into their own history, cultural roots to see if they themselves can find transcending elements about their cultural heritage worth preserving." The lecture was followed by a discussion of Hmong identity and the arts.

For more information on Seexeng Lee, go to: www.seexeng.com.

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MnDOT Host Meet and Greet with Diversity Artist
By Amy Doeun
June 4, 2008

On Tuesday May 27, 2008 the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) hosted a Meet and Greetwith Seexeng Lee the artist of Unity in Diversity. Unity in Diversity was commissioned for the 2007 Dragon Festival at Lake Phalen and has since housed by the Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans. Currently the piece is on display in the lobby of the State Transportation building at 395 John Ireland Blvd.

The Meet and Greetis part of an initiative of MnDOT to promote diversity within the organization. Deputy Commissioner/Chief Engineer Khani Sahebjam is new to the job and has enjoyed the painting, but this was his first opportunity to hear the background of the story behind the painting.

Tim Henkkel Plannning/Proramming Division Director also addressed the gathered employees saying, there are Objectives we have for diversity within the department. This is an opportunity to see what diversity is.

Seexeng Lee then gave the background behind the story, It is an honor that a state agency would display my painting. Lee is often nervous in front of crowds even though he is a teacher for Minneapolis public schools. He often says jokingly that he hopes someone in the audience knows CPR, Im here at MnDOT someone must know CPR.

Lee shared a little bit of his private story. He considers himself both Hmong and American. There were times when I didnt want to be one or the other.now I am comfortable with my dual citizenship. He said, I hope that being American doesnt mean that you have to drop your culture but that you can be a better, Swede, Norwegian, Hmong or Somali, and that being American means you can be fluent in 2 or 3 or 4 cultures.

The Piece, Unity in Diversity is made up of pieces of wood individually colored (painted)by attendees at the Dragon Festival in 2007. There are 100 pieces and 100 anonymous artists. Tying the piece together are the words, We Are One, inscribed across the painting in all API languages spoken in the state of Minnesota. We are a country of immigrants, Lee said. The 5 hands holding the golden blocks that make up the state of Minnesota represent continents. They contribute to make our state golden.

Lee assembled the pieces and completed the piece. He said, Its not all methe end product was beyond my comprehension.

Evelyn Lee, past chair of the Dragon Festival also spoke saying that the Dragon Festival is an, Asian FestivalWe are trying to get all communities to come together. Lee said that they hope to have another artists work with them this year. The Festival brings out 3,000-9,000 attendees each year.

Pa Thao of the MnDOT recruitment office said that the Seeds (College Students), Pathway (College Students with Disabilities) and Phoenix (High School Students) student worker program will have a team completing in this years boat race on July 13.

Eric Davis of the Human Resources Department at MnDOT summed up the event saying, [The painting] has enriched our lives the past couple of weeks.

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Seexeng Lee Lectures at Macalester College
by Amy Doeun
March 26, 2008

About 20 students and community members gathered in the Harmon Room at the Macalester College library on March 13 to hear a lecture by Seexeng Lee on the Contemporary Hmong Artist. This was the second in a series of lectures at Macalester on Hmong culture. The 1st lecture this semester was a story teller.

Though Lee is an art teacher he expressed nervousness at lecturing in this venue. He began his lecture by saying, If I faint I need your helpits an honor and I am excited to be here.

Lee began with a brief history of the Hmong people. He said that as a semi-nomadic population with a history of major migrations, including ones following the Vietnam War, Hmong art was traditionally classified as primitive. He sites Dr. Gary Yia Lee in saying that primitive art is useful artused in their daily lives and focuses on functional qualities rather than aesthetic.

Examples of this include work of silver smiths and the Phia (soul lock). Dr. Dia Cha said this provides a remembrance of the hardship of slavery. The functional purpose of the Phia is sacred, to keep the spirit close to the bodythe spirit will stay engaged, interested and not wander. Many of the traditional textile arts hold a similar purpose. Through the 3 stages of life, Paj Ntaub was created to keep the soul engaged. At birth babies are considered to have weak spirits, it is especially important that their souls do not wander. Paj Ntaub hats also confuse evil spirits causing them to mistake the children for flowers.

At marriage a mother would give her daughter both a marriage and funeral garment, so that she will be welcomed and accepted by the ancestors.

Other traditional art forms include black smiths, weavers, singers, musicians and story tellers.

Lee talked about the complexities of living in a new culture that does not demand the same functions of its art. For example Paj Ntaub now has commercial purposes. They have become bigger and the purpose has changed from functional to the aesthetic. Lee added that, change is a natural progression for all things to remain viable. He feels that as a visual artist, We substitute paint and brush for the thread and needlethe subject is Hmong-the medium is different.

Modern Hmong artists may still incorporate some or many elements of the traditional and includes such fields as dancers, fashion designers, sculptors, pop singers, poet/writers, film makers, actors, comedians, ritual performers and art educators.

One of the main problems facing the Hmong artist today is the lack of support in the family and community. Lee sited from his own experience that his family was not pleased when he wanted to be an artist, but being an art teacher was acceptable. Another huge struggle is finding patronssomeone to support them [financially] in their struggles. For non-Hmong they often do not understand the contextthe richness behind it.

For Lee and other artists it is important to remember how far we have come but at the same time remember where we have com from. In his art he seeks to find the essential Hmong, something beyond the popular nostalgia for life in Laos. Hmong existed before Laos and will exist after. However there are concerns. He said, We are loosing culture at a greater rate then any other time in history. Yet the work of the artist is to enrich Hmong culture rather than diminishing it.

Among those in attendance was Theodore Kim, a sophomore from Illinois, who said that the thing he loves about Macalester is, Its very close knit, everyone knows each other.

Ellina Xiong and Charles Vang are co-chair of Ua Ke, the Macalester Hmong Student Organization. Xiong, a junior psychology major, said that the idea for a series of lectures on Hmong culture began, last semester as we were planning the budget and brainstorming.

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Seexeng Lee, Artist and Art Teacher, Reflects on His Life
By Amy Doeun
October 24, 2007

Local emerging Hmong artist Seexeng Lee recalls, I drew in the dirt just to survive.

Lees journey as an artist has modeled his journey as a man. At a young age, Lee said he felt assimilation was the only way to survive. So Lee began to integrate and add bits of Western influence into his artwork.

On his Web site, Lee said, Art was the only way I knew how to conceive images and meanings.

The use of gold leaf has become Lees signature in his artwork. Lee recalls he liked working with gold leaf. However, Lee said a professor once told him that gold leafing should be saved for the sacred and important. Then, Lee wasnt immediately sure what elements of the Hmong culture were fitting to this description. When his father passed away, Lee said he finally realized that the signs were all around him. Lee took the black-and-white painting he had created of his father and had given to his father years ago, and Lee gold-leafed the metal of the military uniform. That painting now hangs in Lees home as a reminder of both his father and sacredness.

Now, Lees work revolves mainly around the core element of what it is to be Hmong, he said. Lee said he digs deep to look for the core meanings-what it is about the Hmong that doesnt change, from China to Laos to the U.S.

Occasionally, Lee said he gets requests for pieces depicting life in Laos, and he describes these pieces the same as me driving to work everyday, because the people in Laos are working daily to survive as well.

The artwork Lee produces often brings a reflection back to his childhood days of drawing with a stick and the dirt floor in his parents hut in Laos. He remembers producing visual images to each of his fathers tales. He said his first drawing was an elephant. Each story visually came alive in my imagination, so did the dirt canvas, Lee said on his web site. I knew I wanted to be an artist.

Lee remembers crossing the Mekong River and living in the refugee camps before coming to the U.S. at the age of 9. Upon his arrival, he didnt stop drawing.

While in grade school, Lee reflects back to the time he would draw and draw while listening to English words taught in class. Lee said the first word he learned was what. He began to use it on his teacher, and she started to talk back to him. He would repeat himself again and again, and he recalls she would talk even more. Eventually, his teacher had to find an interpreter, he said. Soon, he said the teacher was concerned that there was something wrong with his ears.

From there on, Lee said, I went right back into my shell. He said he kept drawing and drawing.

Years later, after Lee had graduated from Augsburg College, he returned to find that teacher. Lee remembers the moment the former teacher saw him, she said, The Artist! She told Lee that she didnt remember his name, but she remembered him drawing and she even had one of his picture still. Lee shared that his former teacher considered holding him back if it had not been for his drawings.

While Lee is an artist at heart, he is a teacher by trade. Lee said that the idea of becoming an artist wasnt accepted by his parents, so he had to do something to please his parents. Lee said he turned to teaching, to teach art.

There is someone like me behind me, Lee said. Lee explained that he wants to be there for those students, to help them communicate and express through art.

For the past 10 years, he has been working in the Minneapolis public schools. Currently, Lee teaches at Patrick Henry High School, where the population is about 28% Hmong and 60% African American.

I will always do art and teach side by side, Lee said. I love teaching. Most of my images and ideas come from students.

Lee said he will not stop teaching, because if he stopped teaching he would loose the impact he has on students.

Lee has had many opportunities to show case his work, including the main piece for the Dragon Festival this year, the lobby at Northpoint Health and Wellness Center in Minneapolis, and CHATs Art Festival. Lee plans to showcase his art at the Hmong New Year where he will have a booth for the 3rd year.

If people see my work and it stops them to stop and reflect, Ive done my work, Lee said.

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