This week, we're celebrating International Women's Day (March 8) with stories about powerful female creative placemakers!
Oskar Ly is a queer Hmong French American multi-disciplinary artist, organizer, and creative cultural producer based in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. She is also the founder of ArtCrop, an art and food CSA.
CSA stands for community supported agriculture: a widely adopted subscription system that allows residents to pre-purchase shares of produce from local farms. The farms then deliver the produce to subscribers at intervals throughout the year or growing season.
ArtCrop’s CSA works similarly, but adds art to the mix. The organization partners with the Hmong American Farmers Association to give subscribers an infusion of goodies like vegetables, herbs, and flowers with their holiday share in the fall, which coincides with the Hmong New Year celebration and the end of the harvest season. The twist is that each box also comes with a unique piece of artwork by a local Hmong artist. This fresh take on the concept was inspired by Hmong culture, food, and the growing art CSA movement.
“Art and agriculture are central to the Hmong culture, identity and history,” reads the background on ArtCrop’s website. “Our artists and farmers have always been resilient cultural makers, from Southeast Asia to the world. Traditionally, Hmong farmers turned to their artistry in the winter months. Farmers were artists. Artists were farmers. From handmade textile and crafts to hand-grown foods that create our own distinct flavors and recipes, Hmong people have always captured our journeys through art and farming. … Our intermingled artistic and farming practices are becoming more and more isolated, and are gradually disappearing and disconnecting us from our history and culture. This is why as artists, we are committed to creating alongside of farmers.”
Ly was named a Forecast 2018 Emerging Artist grantee for a project she is co-piloting with fellow ArtCrop artist Christina Vang called The Paj Ntaub Gate. For the project, Ly and Vang will embark on their second artist residency at the Hmong American Farmers Association farm in Hastings, Minnesota. There they will build on their earlier work by spending time with farmers to inform their creation of a tapestry-like outdoor mural installation that will honor both the traditions of Hmong agriculture and Paj Ntaub (story cloth) art, and inspire the next generation of Hmong culture.
In 2015, ArtPlace made enthusiastic mention of Ly’s collaboration with RedGreen Rivers, a social enterprise where fashion designers and traditional artisans have come together in response to the global popularization of ethnic designs, patterns, and handicrafts—often without credit or backstory. Ly created ArtCrop’s inaugural 2017 Thanksgiving share—a series of handmade art coasters—with batik hemp textiles from RedGreen Rivers artisans.
If you live in or near the Twin Cities, you can attend an artist talk and Q & A with Ly tomorrow—Thursday, March 7—at Forecast Public Art, from 6:00 to 7:00 pm. Find more info and RSVP here.