Handwoven textiles intrigued me as a child. My mother, a Tai Daeng woman from Laos, continued to weave after she married an American, who worked for the US Embassy in Laos, and moved to the United States. Cuisine and textiles were her links to her homeland after the demise of the Kingdom of Laos in 1975. My mother’s, grandmother’s, and aunt’s weavings adorned the walls of our American home. Although she tried to teach me to when I was 6 years old, I did not seriously begin to learn to weave and about the roles of textiles in society until I was at university.
This interest led me to pursue an interdisciplinary Masters of Arts degree in Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, and taking courses in its Textile Studies program. Restrictions to entering Laos steered my research towards handwoven textiles in Thailand and their use as national identity markers. Working in Thailand after receiving my master’s degree allowed me to continue researching textiles.
My interest in Southeast Asian textile broadened when I worked at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Washington of Seattle where I completed a diploma in Museum Studies. I also worked as a researcher at the UW Burke Museum when I started my PhD at Simon Fraser University, Canada. This degree also took a multi-disciplinary approach, combining anthropology, linguistics, and communications to survey textile production of ethnic groups living in Laos specifically and Southeast Asia in general. While employed at the Burke Museum, I catalogued its Southeast Asian textiles collection that primarily consisted of textiles from Insular Southeast Asia. During this period, I curated a small exhibit and organized a symposium on Southeast Asian textiles in conjunction with UW’s Henry Gallery.
After completing my doctoral research in South Laos, I remained in Bangkok, Thailand, working as a senior curator for the James HW Thompson Museum and a consulting curator at the Tilleke & Gibbins Textile Collection until 2013. During this period, I curated two exhibitions and wrote the accompanying catalogues: Status, Myth, and the Supernatural: Ritual Tai Textiles and Weaving Paradise: Southeast Asian Textiles and Their Creators. I also authored Art of Southeast Asian Textiles: The Tilleke & Gibbins Collection (2012). I expanded by research areas to cover both Mainland and Insular Southeast Asian cultures.
In 2014, I commence on researching and writing about Indonesian textiles and jewelry from the Francisco Capelo Collection of Lisbon. I just completed a consulting expert position for a New Zealand Aid-funded project concerning the renovation and re-design of the Xieng Khouang Provincial Museum, Laos. Other exhibits I have curated in Laos include Carving a Community: The Katu People. I am continuing to research textiles of the Katu and other groups in Laos, royal Lao embroidery, and textiles of groups living in Alor Regency, NTT, Indonesia. The parallels between the some of these Mainland and Insular Southeast Asian cultures are intriguing.
I have published extensively on textiles and their roles in society. My latest articles include co-authoring an article on Alurung textiles of Alor Regency in Textiles Asia Journal and an e-book on the textiles of Alor Regency with staff from the 10,000 Moko Museum of Alor Regency, Indonesia.