Seexeng Lee dreams up special community birthday gift for General Vang Pao
By Tom LaVenture
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (July 2, 2010) – Seexeng Lee, a North High School art teacher, who is also renowned for his commissioned public works of art – took it upon himself to commemorate the 35th Anniversary of Hmong in America and the 80th Birthday of General Vang Pao, with a special piece that was created with community participation.
The work, titled, “Hmong Icon” has at its center a three-dimensional sculpted figure of the revered military commander who was also instrumental in the transition of the refugee community in the United States. It is placed upon three tiers, or layers to denote past, present adn future.
The first layer was reserved for Vang Pao and contains his sole signature; the second layer contained the signatures of 80 individuals who contributed a symbolic $80 donation to recoup costs in creating the noncommissioned artwork that Lee funded out of his own pocket.
The third tier – the Hmong word for number three has dual meanings of ‘us, our and we’, according to Lee, contained signatures of around 105 individuals who donated whatever they could at two events last weekend before it was presented to General Vang Pao at the International Sports Tournament and Freedom Festival at Como Park on July 3, 2010.
Lee was concerned that the donations would not represent a fee, or taint the meaning of the gift as a fundraiser or something else. He said it is about a community showing appreciation for Vang Pao though a very special gift. He said this approach enabled young and old alike to show that the sentiment spanned generations.
“The goal is that this is ‘us’ and it is our gift to Vang Pao on his 80th Birthday,” said Lee.
Lee, who pursues much of his art on a cultural and spiritual level, blending an exploration of his roots with a contemporary and universal approach that has attracted other mainstream commissions, collaborated with community for photos and input during the research process.
The sculpted head is gold, an element that appears in much of Lee’s works. In this Vang Pao work, he said gold represents significance and a sort of sacredness, which is what Vang Pao has become in some ways as an iconic leader.
The Minnesota Hmong community celebrated the 80th Birthday of their revered leader, General Vang Pao on July 1 at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood. During the event, he signed the center piece of the artwork – gold on black.
- General Vang Pao, center left, together with former veterans of the US/CIA Special Guerrilla Unit (SGU) in Laos during the American War in Vietnam from 1961 – 75, during the 4th Annual National Conference July 2 at Hmong American Alliance Church in Maplewood.
General Vang Pao was also in town to meet with former veterans of the US/CIA Special Guerrilla Unit in Laos during the American War in Vietnam from 1961 – 75. He attended the 4th Annual National Conference on July 2 at Hmong American Alliance Church in Maplewood.
The meeting brought SGU veterans from around the world together with key supporters and agency staff to discuss current initiatives to assist Hmong veterans and their survivors with benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense.
Lee said that this artwork is also in appreciation for the SGU of America, and that it was an important opportunity to have many of SGU leaders that worked along side Van Pao to sign the work while they were in town for the conference.
Lee partnered with Lao Family Community of Minnesota and Hmong 18 Council and said their role offered coordination for the community participation. He said the gift is important as a symbolic stage of community development and for the monumental birthday of Vang Pao.
He added that one day after Vang Pao has passed on, the work would make its way to Lao Family Community for permanent exhibition. See more photos of the artwork and community involvement at www.seexeng.com.