Interview: Tshab Her


"If you see something beautiful in someone, speak it." - Anonymous

Over the years, I have had the privilege of meeting amazing people across the world, via the Internet. In the past, I would interview different bloggers who inspired me. Now that I have started blogging more consistency, I decided to start doing interviews again. This time, I am focusing on artists who not only are extremely talented, but have something powerful to say. I recently came across Tshab's work and couldn't be more excited to share. I hope you enjoy learning more about Tshab as much as I did. 

I would love to know your name, age, and where are you from? 

My name is Tshab Her and it's pronounced as "cha." I am 25 years old and currently live in Chicago, Illinois.

Give me three words that you would use to describe yourself.

Committed, hardworking and passionate.  

Who or what inspires you? 

Most of my inspiration comes from reading articles and books. I'm currently in a "research phase" and haven't been making as much work as I used to when I was in school. 

I am also inspired by other Hmong artists who are working critically to make work about their own Hmong identity such as Pao Houa HerKoua Mai YangVictoria Kue, and Elizabeth Lee.

Overall, I am inspired by the needs of my own community and how art could create a voice for those who have been unheard.

I love that you use muslin and various paints as your primary artistic medium. What made you decide to use this medium and how has it influenced the way that you express your art?

I took a drawing class during my undergrad and one day my instructor brought in a roll of muslin. I was so intrigued! Since then, I started incorporating fabric into my work and eventually started expanding to Hmong textiles and traditional Hmong clothing. I could not look pass the bright colors and started using the color scheme into other projects.

I started as a painter and usually go back to painting, but I eventually moved into other mediums and now consider myself an interdisciplinary artist. 

I am very intrigued by your work, “Reclaiming Existence” (2016). Could you elaborate on your process of the piece?

"Reclaiming Existence" was a project I proposed and entered into a lobby competition at my school, School of Art and Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. My proposal was accepted and I had the honor of displaying this work as an installation piece for the entire spring 2016 semester.

I painted a Hmong textile pattern onto the lobby walls of the art building. As the weeks went by, I sanded the pattern to make it look like it was disappearing. Because we do not have our own country, I wanted to mark this lobby as a temporary "Hmong space," a sort of reclaiming and accepting our existence. I decided to sand the pattern because wherever the Hmong body goes, it is temporary.

We have moved and lived among many nations, whether by force or choice. Our existence questions what it means to live in exile. I wanted the work to represent the fragility of life and how one reconciles their own body with a history of persecution and war.

I recently read “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen. The book is basically about the Vietnam War and touches on those who came to the U.S. as refugees. One of my favorite quotes from the book which comments on how minorities feel compared to how others see minorities. 

The quote is "We thought our reflection in the mirror was who we really were, when how we saw ourselves and how others saw us was often not the same. Likewise, we often deceived ourselves when we thought [that] we saw ourselves most clearly.” 

What does it feel like for you, as a minority, in this “Trump era” and how do you have a conversation with someone who can be ignorant about your cultural identity?

In the beginning, I was scared. I was scared for my life. Not just for my own, but for every other minority in the US. The fear is still present today, but I feel a fight in me to be socially conscious about the things that are happening not only in America, but in the world as a whole.

My parents came over to the States in the 70's as political refugees after the Vietnam War and were able to become legal residents and eventually American citizens. With news of people getting sent back to their homeland strikes fear in me because I think, "What if mom and dad get sent back to Laos?" This has rung even truer because my parents are going to visit Laos in a few months for the first time since they immigrated to America. What if they aren't granted access back into the United States?

As Hmong Americans continue to move forward, more and more people are becoming informed of our story, of who we are and why we're here. Though it is beautiful to see the success of my fellow Hmong Americans, there are still many people who do not know we exist. I've always grown up defending who I am and explaining to strangers who the Hmong are. It's been a never-ending story and statements such as, "No, I'm not Chinese, Japanese or Korean. You will most likely never guess my ethnicity." I eventually tell the stranger I'm Hmong and that we do not have our own country; there would usually be a follow-up statement saying, "Oh so you're Mongolian!" No, I'm not.

What initially made you start #hmongspace and what does it mean to you?

#hmongspace stemmed from a previous work I made titled "Reclaiming Existence." During that time, I was constantly thinking about site and place: what does it mean to be someone who doesn't know their origin story? What does it mean to not have a country?

Since the Hmong do not have a country to call home, I wanted to make spaces for us. I ordered some stickers with a Hmong pattern I designed from an original textile my grandmother sewed and started placing the stickers around Chicago. I asked my friends in person and on social media if they'd like to help me spread #hmongspace. I started sending out 20 stickers to friends in California, Minnesota, Indiana, New York, and other states. #hmongspace also made its way to Thailand and Australia!

For awhile I had been wondering how I could expand my practice into something tangible and when I came up with the #hmongspace project, it started giving me the initial push I needed. I am thankful to all my friends and strangers who took on the task of putting up these stickers. If anyone is interested in participating, feel free to email me at with your current address and I'd be happy to send you some stickers to spread #hmongspace.

Tell me one lesson that you have learned on your journey as an artist? 

One of the things I've learned as an artist is to just be yourself. It's so important because if you start making work that satisfies others, you're just going to make yourself feel worse. Make work that speaks to who you are and work that shares what matters to you.

We all have a voice and it's up to us to speak loudly so others could here. As cheesy as it sounds, there really is only one you. We have to be brave.

Images found on Instagram @tshabher and*

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