Katie Ka Vang is a Hmong-American interdisciplinary artist who is a performer and writer. She has performed on stages around the Twin Cities, such as Pillsbury House Theater (Late Night Series), CHAT, Pangea World Theater, Mu Performing Arts, Intermedia Arts and Expose Brick Theater. She co-wrote and directed the play Myth of Xee and was a recipient of a Jerome Foundation Naked Stages grant to create a solo performance art piece called 5:1 Meaning of Freedom; 6:2 Use of Sharpening. She is appearing in the new production of Sia(b) with May Lee-Yang by the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent this month, and Asian American Press had a chance to talk with her.
What led to this latest collaboration?
Katie Ka Vang: I guess the first collaboration, or the first act produced by Mu and I was brought in as an actor to read the script. May and I created an energy for the piece and it worked- and now we’re trying to expand on that energy.
What are some the directions you’re trying to take Hmong American performance art?
KKV: It’s quite challenging because I gravitate towards non-traditional processes and I’d like to expose Hmong audiences to non-traditional processes but there is a big pocket of our community that hasn’t even seen a traditional plays yet, so I’m still working on finding balance between the two– in many ways, I think Sia(b) does a great job of that.
Do you see an evolution in your work?
KKV: I definitely see my growth as an actor. Its been a great learning experience being in this piece and the responsibility that comes with it.
How do you feel your vision as a community activist intersects with your vision as an artist, if at all?
KKV: Lately, I’ve been hearing the term “activists” alot. And there are all types of perceptions of what “activists” look like and what they’re suppose to do… (like lead a group or something and throw up fists in solidarity for the revolution) but I’m a bit cynical these days, because so many of those who claim to be “activists” actually lead a very different life, or are completely oblivious to the injustices they put on folks around them (folks they work with) because they are so caught up in being recognized as an activists they don’t stop to question whether or not it’s benefitting a community or just them… and when they create work specifically towards their activism, I question the genuiness of their work. I’d rather not call myself an activists, I prefer to just create work and let those around me decide for themselves. Recently a friend told me something her grandmother said “If you’re wearing perfume, you don’t have to announce it to everyone, they can smell it for themselves”. Sorry for such a long answer, this issue has been in my head for a while now.
What is your sense of the arts community in Minnesota?
KKV: I think the arts community in Minnesota is always growing. I know specifically in the art scene I’m a part of, the youth are coming up and its important we work harder to give each other means of support and opportunities. A few of us have also noticed an interest in young Hmong professionals who might have not had access to the arts when they were younger, but are now wanting to create work– its great!
Can you talk about what challenges have arisen in embarking down the path of an artist?
KKV: There are many challenges– the first one that sticks out in my head right away is the money. You want to do great work, but great work requires time; rarely will you find a gig where you’re being paid adequate money for your time and creative energy; but then for me, it encourages me to seek out my own funding. There is also a heavy admin side to this- its like running your own business.
Aside from subject matter, are you trying to do something different now than you did in your previous works, or do you feel you are trying to extend those performances?
KKV: Well since we’re here on behalf of Sia(b) I’ll first speak specifically in relation to Sia(b)- I’m trying to dive deeper into these characters– there is a consistency in the content of the script, but the characters have a different journey; there are also a few new characters that invite you into different parts of May’s life. It has been a frustratingly useful journey in being a part of this piece because it’s really challenging me as an actor and creator in how I handle and portray these characters and situations that are always grabbing for power.
In my personal work I’m trying to find time to work on my own stuff. I have a few projects in the works and hoping to have a few showings by end of year.
How do you negotiate your work in the nonprofit community, do they help or hinder the other? Is it instructive for you as artists to be involved in the world of art through a non-profit organization than through academia?
KKV: Generally speaking, I try not to negotiate artistic quality in my own work anymore. As far as working with non-profits, I think its important to understand the mission of an organization before I decide to collaborate– they are an organization and they serve a community, so to me, it is understandable that they need something more concrete at the end of a process. I feel like I’ve had experience on both ends of this spectrum, but I think its more important that you help them meet their expectations according to their understanding of what community is, while making sure you’re not compromising your own artistic quality, and if you feel as though you are compromising, then maybe you need to collaborate with another organization.
Where in your work are you trying to push yourself, challenge yourself, risk something?
KKV: I feel like my work comes from a very expository process… and I think it comes naturally, even more so when you have a mentor like Laurie Carlos.
When did you fall in love with the arts?
KKV: I think I’d always loved the arts. I think I liked performing in general- but when I was growing up the only type of performances I was exposed to was music and singing, through church. So growing up, I did a lot of singing at church, I used to sing for this contemporary christian rock band called Forgiven. And later I discovered theater, so here I am.
This month, the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent is presents Sia(b) at Gremlin Theater from May 29th to June 7th. The Gremlin Theatre is located at 2400 University Avenue West.
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