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2021 McKnight Fiber Artist Fellows:
Sarah Kusa & Ka Oskar Ly

Fellowship Period: January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2021

Work by Sarah Kusa
Work by Ka Oskar Ly
Sarah Kusa (photo by Rebecca Slater), detail from "Distance Meditation No. 4" by Sarah Kusa

Sarah Kusa

Sarah Kusa creates sculpture and installations dealing with themes of human vulnerability and interconnection, with forms ranging from abstract bodies to three-dimensional drawings in space. She has exhibited her work throughout the United States at venues including the Plains Art Museum (ND), DeVos Art Museum (MI), Welch School of Art and Design Gallery at Georgia State University in Atlanta (GA), Hutchinson Center for the Arts (MN), and the Phipps Center for the Arts (WI). Kusa has received the Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Artists, a Jerome Foundation Fiber Artist Project Grant, and a Next Step Fund grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council. She has participated in residencies at MASS MoCA, the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study, and Ragdale. She lives and works in Saint Paul. 


Ka Oskar Ly (photo by Teeko.co), "Yellow - Resistance Paradise Collection" by Ka Oskar Ly

Ka Oskar Ly

Ka Oskar Ly is a queer Hmoob (Hmong) French American artist and cultural producer using fashion, art, and culture to journey into identity and community to redefine Hmoob aesthetics, cultural innovation, and community futures rooted in social change. Operating under their label Os.Couture, they are an artrepreneur who has showcased their work along with alternative, underrepresented works from their communities, through SOY New Year, Fresh Traditions Fashion Shows, Twin Cities Pride, and Hmong MN Day at the MN State Fair. A Minnesota State Arts Board grantee, a Pfund Scholarship recipient, and Twin Cities Pride Art Gallery Chairman award recipient, their work has been recognized at the Next Generation of LGBT Leaders, hosted by President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden. Little Black Shhh – Part Un and Part Deux, garment/photography collaborations with photographers Cam Xiong and Karen Nou Yang, respectively, were featured in We Are Hmong Minnesota at the Minnesota History Center.


Gabriel Dawe

Gabriel Dawe creates work centered on the exploration of textiles, examining the construction of gender and identity in his native Mexico and attempting to subvert the notions of masculinity and machismo prevalent in the present day. His Plexus installations have been exhibited all over the world, including the Toledo Museum of Art, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. His work has been collected by public and private institutions, and featured in numerous publications including 100 Sculptors of TomorrowSculpture magazine, and the cover of Arts Fundamentals. In 2020, he was the State Three-Dimensional Artist for the state of Texas, and received a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant.      gabrieldawe.com

T’ai Smith

T’ai Smith is associate professor of modern and contemporary art history and media studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.  Author of Bauhaus Weaving Theory: From Feminine Craft to Mode of Design (University of Minnesota Press, 2014), her writings have appeared in Art Journal, Grey Room, and Texte zur Kunst, and in catalogues for the Museum of Modern Art, ICA Boston, and Tate Modern. She contributed to Anni Albers, On Weaving: New Expanded Edition (Princeton University Press, 2017). Smith has been a Senior Fellow at IKKM in Weimar, Germany, and a Scholar in Residence at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, UBC. She is currently working on two book manuscripts: Fashion After Capital and Textile Media: Tangents from Modern to Contemporary Art.  t’ai-smith @ ubc

Lena Vigna

Lena Vigna is currently the curator of exhibitions at the Racine Art Museum in Racine, Wisconsin, where she curates and oversees the production and implementation of 10-15 exhibitions per year and heads the department. With particular interest in the contemporary fields of adornment, sculpture, fiber, and installation, she has curated numerous solo and group exhibitions and written several essays that explore issues relevant to contemporary art and society. Named one of the top craft curators under 50 in a non-published museum survey, she was awarded a Craft Research Fund Project Grant from the Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design for an exhibition about contemporary approaches to lace, and received an Art Jewelry Forum grant for Adornment and Excess: Jewelry in the 21st Century.     lenavigna @ RAM

Denise Markonish

Denise Markonish is the Senior Curator and Director of Exhibitions at MASS MoCA. She has over twenty years of experience producing and commissioning large-scale and experiential exhibitions and publishing catalogues, previously at the Fuller Museum, Brockton, MA and Artspace, New Haven, CT. Curated exhibitions at MASS MoCA have included Glenn Kaino: In the Light of a Shadow (catalogue DelMonico Books); Suffering from Realness (catalogue DelMonico/Prestel); Trenton Doyle Hancock , Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass (catalogue DelMonico/Prestel); Nick Cave: Until (catalogue DelMonico/Prestel, travelled to Carriageworks, Sydney, Tramway, Glasgow, The Momentary, Bentonville); Explode Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomena of Wonder (catalogue DelMonico/Prestel); Teresita Fernández: As Above So Below (catalogue MASS MoCA); Oh, Canada, the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art (Catalogue MIT Press); Nari Ward: Sub Mirage Lignum (catalogue MASS MoCA); These Days: Elegies for Modern Times; and Badlands: New Horizons in Landscape (Catalogue MIT Press). She has also edited Teresita Fernández: Wayfinding (DelMonico/Prestel) and Wonder: 50 Years of RISD Glass, and co-edited Sol LeWitt: 100 Views (Yale University Press). Markonish has taught at Williams College and the Rhode Island School of Design; was a visiting curator at Artpace’s International Artist in Residency Program, San Antonio, TX; an advisor and co-conceiver of the SETI Institute’s Artist in Residence Program, Mountain View, CA; and a visiting curator at the Haystack School of Craft, Deer Isle, ME.  (Photo by Michael Oatman)  MASSMoCA.org

Matthew Villar Miranda

Matthew Villar Miranda (he/they/siya) currently works as the Visual Arts Curatorial Fellow at the Walker Art Center where they research and plan for a series of forthcoming exhibitions by Asian American and Pacific Islander artists including Pao Houa Her, Paul Chan, and Pacita Abad. Additionally, they are researching for the Culture and Structure unit for Museums Moving Forward (MMF), a Ford and Mellon Foundation-funded initiative of intergenerational, cross-institutional coalition of art museum professionals committed to advancing intersectional equity across the museum sector. In Arizona, they recently co-curated the Art for Justice Fund sponsored exhibition Undoing Time: Art and Histories of Incarceration at the Arizona State University Art Museum (ASUAM) and served on the Acquisition Committee for the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary of Art (SMOCA). They received their Bachelor of Arts in History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley (2013). Miranda was a member of the inaugural cohort of the LA County Art Museum of Art- Arizona State University Master’s Fellowship in Art History program. Areas of research include the postcolonial aesthetics of the Philippines and Asian American visual culture using affect, queer, and critical Filipinx methodologies.  (Photo by Joshua Gutierrez)  Matthew Villar Miranda

Catherine J. Morris

Catherine J. Morris is the Sackler Senior Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Prior to joining the Brooklyn Museum, she was an independent curator for more than twelve years. Morris has organized several exhibitions that explored issues related to feminism and its impact as a social, political, and intellectual construct on the development of visual culture—among them Decoys, Complexes and Triggers: Feminism and Land Art in the 1970’s at the Sculpture Center, Long Island City, New York, and Gloria and Regarding Gloria at White Columns, New York. She was co-curator of Hans Hoffmann: Circa 1950, on view at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. Morris has also been Adjunct Curator of Contemporary Art at the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and has authored or contributed to several scholarly publications and catalogues, including two books about Cindy Sherman. A longtime Brooklyn resident, Morris is a graduate of the University of Maryland and the recipient of an M.A. from Hunter College. As Curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, she organizes a wide range of special exhibitions and oversees the Center’s permanent collection, which includes The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago.  Catherine J. Morris

Aram Han Sifuentes

Aram Han Sifuentes is a fiber and social practice artist, writer, and educator who works to center immigrant and disenfranchised communities. Her work often revolves around skill sharing, specifically sewing techniques, to create multiethnic and intergenerational sewing circles, which become a place for empowerment, subversion, and protest. Solo exhibitions include the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (Chicago), Hyde Park Art Center (Chicago), Chicago Cultural Center (Chicago), Pulitzer Arts Foundation (St. Louis), moCa Cleveland (Cleveland), and upcoming at the Skirball Cultural Center (Los Angeles) in April 2022. Sifuentes is a 2016 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow, 2016 3Arts Award and 2021 3Arts Next Level Awardee, 2020 Map Fund Grantee, and 2022 Center of Craft Craft Research Fund Artist Fellow. Her project, Protest Banner Lending Library, was a finalist for the Beazley Design Awards, Design Museum, London, UK, 2016. She earned her BA in Art and Latin American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and her MFA in Fiber and Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is currently an associate professor, adjunct, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  aramhansifuentes.com

T’ai Smith

T’ai Smith is associate professor of modern and contemporary art history and media studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.  Author of Bauhaus Weaving Theory: From Feminine Craft to Mode of Design (University of Minnesota Press, 2014), her writings have appeared in Art Journal, Grey Room, and Texte zur Kunst, and in catalogues for the Museum of Modern Art, ICA Boston, and Tate Modern. She contributed to Anni Albers, On Weaving: New Expanded Edition (Princeton University Press, 2017). Smith has been a Senior Fellow at IKKM in Weimar, Germany, and a Scholar in Residence at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, UBC. She is currently working on two book manuscripts: Fashion After Capital and Textile Media: Tangents from Modern to Contemporary Art.  t’ai-smith @ ubc

Fiber art is thriving in Minnesota, and the field’s growth as an artistic discipline now includes the McKnight Artist Fellowships Program, which provides two $25,000 fellowships to be awarded each year to individual mid-career fiber artists living and working in Minnesota.

In addition to the $25,000 unrestricted award and public recognition in support of their studio work and practice, McKnight Fiber Artist Fellows receive:

  • Critiques/studio visits with curators and critics from the field.
  • Exhibition at the end of the fellowship period in the Joan Mondale Gallery at Textile Center.
  • Professional photographic documentation of work at the end of the fellowship period.
  • Professional development support, such as attending conferences, workshops, and marketing advice for their work; plus consultation sessions from artist career consultants at Springboard for the Arts on topics of your choice.
  • The opportunity to participate in an artist residency in partnership with McKnight and the Alliance of Artist Communities.
  • Membership to Textile Center and access to Textile Center’s resources, including library of more than 32,000 books and periodicals, state-of-the-art dye lab, and artisan shop opportunities.

The intent of the McKnight Fellowships for Fiber Artists is to recognize and support talented Minnesota fiber and textile artists whose work is of exceptional artistic merit. These fellowships are in support of individual artists who are at a career stage beyond emerging. Fiber Artists, as defined for the purposes of this fellowship, are artists who use textile and fiber arts materials, processes and/or sensibilities in their artistic practice throughout the conception, execution, and resolution of their work. The fellowships are funded by the McKnight Foundation and administered by Textile Center.


Founded on the belief that Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive, the McKnight Foundation’s Arts & Culture program is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country. Support for individual working Minnesota artists has been a cornerstone of the program since it began in 1982. The McKnight Artist Fellowships Program provides annual, unrestricted cash awards to outstanding mid-career Minnesota artists in 14 different creative disciplines. Program partner organizations administer the fellowships and structure them to respond to the unique challenges of different disciplines. Currently the foundation contributes about $2.8 million per year to its statewide fellowships. For more information, visit mcknight.org/artistfellowships.


The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Established in 1953, the McKnight Foundation is deeply committed to advancing climate solutions in the Midwest; building an equitable and inclusive Minnesota; and supporting the arts in Minnesota, neuroscience, and international crop research. mcknight.org

A focus on racial equity is at the heart of the McKnight approach to funding. Along with Textile Center, our organizations value diversity and equity, seeking to be inclusive and accessible to all applicants. We welcome and encourage applications from artists representing diverse cultural perspectives.

Sarah Kusa, 2021 McKnight Fiber Artist Fellow


At the heart of McKnight Fiber Artist Fellow Sarah Kusa’s work is the awareness that life can change at any moment, and that as humans, we are all vulnerable. Says Kusa, “We are waking up to this reality, collectively, during pandemic times, but this recognition hit home for me personally as a young adult when unexpected tragedy touched my family. The art I make is not about loss, but its presence as a lens I look through is undeniable. A vein of vulnerability runs through all of my sculptures and installations, reflecting my questions about being in the world as a creature with human limitations. I am curious about the precariousness of vulnerability and power — how the two closely coexist, even when one might seem to eclipse the other.” Using the vocabulary of abstraction and a spare material language, Kusa’s work investigates how we embody vulnerability and/or power through what we attempt to hold in, what we aim to keep out, and what ties we keep.


With a wide visual range, Kusa’s work takes a variety of physical forms. Of this, she explains, “For several years I have been working in three thematically related — but visually disparate — veins of exploration: abstract bodies that stand in for our own, thread installations about interconnection, and delineations of space where our bodies may or may not belong. Across this broad variety of forms, there are constants to be found: repeated physical gestures, emphasis on the human body, and materials that are themselves vulnerable in some way — that can be crushed, unraveled, or torn. Much of my work comes about through what I think of as three-dimensional drawing, in which a relatively immediate process puts a spotlight on gesture and the material itself.”


Barrier: Keep Out/Stay In (2017), pictured, was Kusa’s first piece that invited a response from a viewer’s own body. Kusa elaborates, “With torn edges and no actual ability to contain, it juts into a room from the wall at an angle, with one end tethered out to appear free-floating. The viewer chooses how to experience the barrier: the smaller-angled side gives the feeling of being penned in, while the opposite side gives the feeling of being outside a limit set for someone else. I continue to push this immersive branch of my work, with questions of connection and disconnection, limits and barriers, at the forefront of my current work. Increasingly, I see my art as a practice of empathy, and this sensibility guides me as I pursue larger, more immersive pieces.”

"Barrier: Keep Out/Stay In" by Sarah Kusa, 2017
"Unequal Pair" by Sarah Kusa, 2016
Detail from "Chambers" by Sarah Kusa, 2018

Ka Oskar Ly, 2021 McKnight Fiber Artist Fellow


In a description of current work, McKnight Fiber Artist Fellow Ka Oskar Ly shares, “The Hmong language has no word for ‘art’ or ‘queer’, yet these are undeniable parts of my identity and work as a nonbinary textile and multidisciplinary artist of the Hmong diaspora.”


Ly’s work in clothing and fashion, in the context of community is celebrated in this fellowship award. “The truest nature of textile application in the Hmong cultural context is through clothing, its relationship to the body and spirit. Worn on the person brings its meaning to life. This is why my work looks to represent bodies and people, particularly to bring a direct visibility that has been perpetually erased because of patriarchy and colonization. Retaining the Hmong identity has been vital; elders remind us daily to hold on to our culture. At the same time, my parents who are Hmong Lao refugees, can rarely speak of their past, let alone our people’s history, due to trauma stemming from the American War in Vietnam and trauma to generations before that. Kinship, rituals, language, and clothing are some of the most recognizable ways we express identity and culture.”


In describing their work and influences, Ly continues, “We were long left out of history books despite our alliances to the US and France so like many minorities in this country, I never had the chance to learn about my people. Proof of our people’s journeys and existence lives through our survival. Our community stories reveal that we are a hill tribe ethnic minority from Southeast Asia and Southern China who for generations have fled persecution. Because of displacement, we carried only what was on our person. Textiles have been a lifeline; we made everything we used, transforming seeds into fiber, into clothing. When our books were burned, our women hid our stories and language by embroidering them into our clothing.”


As a community organizer and cultural influencer, Ly speaks of their artistic practice as being grounded in community organizing that promotes fuller identity, community, and culture. “I’ve had to produce alternative platforms that would present and contextualize my work to be seen and understood as a Hmong person. This is of high importance because I faced many cultural and systemic exclusions because of my identities. Yet, coming out allowed me to more fully and proudly embrace Hmong and queer aesthetics moving more fluidly from conceptual art to wearable art, which in turn has inspired my communities to embrace more complex identities.”


“My textile work is inspired by the Hmong traditions of handmade garments–making much like couture–and the vibrancy of unapologetic queerness. Channeling my ancestors, clothing as a multidisciplinary form has been a powerful tool for me to politically reclaim culture through a living lens to be our fuller selves. I center gender queerness, race, and body affirmation. Each work dives deeper in decolonizing and dismantling of gender norms, stereotypes, and biases through counter narratives that confront multifaceted tensions.”


Creating both the platform and the work as an integrated practice has enabled them to mobilize their community towards creating social and cultural change. “As I move forward, my work will stay true to facilitating cultural innovation rooted in ancestral practices and centering the role of people power to fiercely build and manifest wildly imaginative community futures.”

"Hi Lo - Little Black Shhh..." by Ka Oskar Ly, Marriage Equality Collection
Hmong Goddess Collection by Ka Oskar Ly
"Femmy Boi" by Ka Oskar Ly, XO Collection

“McKnight Artist Fellowships increase the exploratory opportunity, economic stability, and productive capacity of artists by providing unrestricted cash awards and artistic and professional development opportunities for midcareer artists in Minnesota.”

— Arleta Little, Arts Program Officer and Director of Artist Fellowships