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Taen Linh Saelee and the Mien Needlework Group collaborating with Asian Community Mental Health Services

Award: $35,000 Traditional Arts Grant awarded in 2003

Presented:  May-December 2005 in a series of exhibitions

In collaboration with Asian Community Mental Health Services (ACMHS), Taen Linh Saelee and members of the Mien Needlework Group created and presented four traditional Mien costumes.  The project provided an opportunity for the 13 members of the needlework group to collaborate in new ways, and help to preserve a textile tradition that is rarely practiced by younger Mien women in the United States. The finished works were donated to Special Collections and Archives at the University of California, Irvine Libraries.

Most Mien families in the United States arrived in the 1980s and 1990s from refugee camps in Thailand.  Because they came from isolated farming regions of Laos, negotiating everyday life in poor urban neighborhoods in the United States has been extremely challenging.  Many Mien suffer from depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Mien Needlework Group was formed by ACMHS to provide Mien women the opportunity to practice traditional arts, express themselves creatively, and socialize. They worked together on their project, “Healing Stitch by Stitch,” at a Learning Center in Oakland.

Over a two-year period, lead artist Taen Linh Saelee and the group members made four works:  an adult female costume, an adult male costume, a boy costume, and a girl costume. Each group member was responsible for making a particular piece of a costume.

Each member of the Mien Needlework Group has between thirty and forty years of experience in traditional needlework. Each made her first pair of elaborately embroidered pants, which can take up to a year to create, for her wedding ceremony. Having learned different stitching patterns and techniques from their elders, they can embroider both older and modern designs.  They use an embroidery cross stitch that is sewn from the back so that both sides of the piece can be of use.  The making of the four costumes was the most in-depth and intense collective expression of needlework and dressmaking the Mien Needlework Group had undertaken. The grant enabled them to import silver thread and other traditional materials from Southeast Asia.

Asian Community Mental Health Services was founded in 1974.  Its mission is to provide and advocate for multilingual and multicultural services that enable people to lead healthy, contributing, and self-sufficient lives.