BOJAGI from Dr. Donghwa Hur’s collection.


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A smashing success, the inaugural 2012 Korea Bojagi Forum brought together a diverse collection of those intrigued by the traditional Korean textile wrapping cloths of bojagi, or jogakbo. Jogakbo is specifically the patchwork wrapping cloths that embody the most widespread expression of bojagi. Bojagi is not just a method of patchwork, it is also part of the cultural history of Korea. A true folk art, wives of any number of peasant families took their scraps of textiles and stitched them together into wrapping cloths, which were used for many purposes from presentation offerings for occasions like weddings and funerals to more utilitarian purposes as coverings for food and other objects. The royal Korean court also used bojagi and to great effect; however patchwork wrapping cloths were more notably a product of the common people. Bojagi thus represents the ever-presence of craft and the handmade in Korean cultural life among all classes.

Celebrations and events related to the forum took place in the municipalities of Seoul, Paju, Suwon, Yongchun, and Daegu, with the net result of effectively increasing greater awareness of the tradition for these participating locations throughout Korea. Organized largely by the efforts of textile artist Chunghie Lee, who resides both in Korea and the United States, the conference brought attendees from Australia, England, Finland, Germany, Japan, Korea, Romania, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Consisting of two days of lectures, two days with options between workshops and tours, and then a final two days of tours, the conference was densely scheduled.

Lee has cooperated with representatives from colleges and universities and artist organizations, such as Anais Missakian, Dean of Fine Arts at the Rhode Island School of Design, and Wendy Lugg, Australian artist and quiltmaker, in establishing a worldwide network for patchwork. While bojagi in Korea has several proponents, Chunghie Lee was the one who established its international awareness through her workshops and classes.

AT THE SUAN ART GALLERY, HONGIK UNIVERSITY, Youngwan Kim (vice president of Hongik University), Fiona Kirkwood, Hiroko Watanabe (president of the Japanese Textile Association), Youngsoon Kim (professor at Hongik University), Anna-Mária Orbán and Youngmi Park.

Forum keynote speaker Dr. Donghwa Hur is another pillar of the bojagi community. Director of the Museum of Korean Embroidery, Dr. Hur has for decades been a stalwart supporter and collector of bojagi. Before bojagi came to the public eye as something to be treasured, Hur traveled to different street shops to purchase the folk craft, becoming somewhat notorious for his passionate pursuit of the cloth. As his museum contains many hundreds of examples in its archives, Hur is a respected guardian of this repository of cultural heritage.

The lectures ranged in content from the international to the historic. Professor Hiroko Watanabe, president of the Japanese Textile Association, gave a lecture on Japanese wrapping cloths. Topics like this illustrated the universality of patchwork, quilting and wrapping methods across countries. A pair of talks by Finnish professor Juha Laurikainen of HAMK University, and professor Youngsoon Kim of Hongik University, found a powerful synergy in subject. Professor Laurikainen discussed a program at HAMK University wherein the fashion department takes traditional Finnish clothes and motifs and incorporates them into a modern clothing line and accessories. Professor Kim covered her own work, which uses bojagi in distinctly contemporary fashion. Seen side by side, it was refreshing to hear how both professors support the rebirth and repurposing of older cultural traditions in the modern world.

It was not just the contemporary aspect where connections were made. Talks by Wendy Lugg and South African artist Fiona Kirkwood discussed patchwork traditions in both aboriginal Australia and in parts of Africa. The wagga, a quilt made from numerous animal hides, was one example. By seeing examples of utilitarian patchwork from other cultures, bojagi is more than a singular textile tradition but another component in a universal human history of taking scraps and transforming them into objects of function and beauty.

Most of the lectures took place in the Heyri Art Village, near Seoul in Paju, where numerous galleries, cafés and restaurants reside. Several of the local galleries, such as Gallery MOA, the Lee & Park Gallery, the Porcelain House Gallery, ArtSpace, and ArtFactory had agreed to participate in the Forum by hosting the craftworks which had been made for the conference. This arrangement meant that attendees and the public could wander throughout Heyri, seeing examples of bojagi everywhere and enjoying the general aesthetic ambiance.

Workshops by Sanghoon Yang, Jiseon Lee Isbara, Jiyoung Chung, and Heeson Yoo were held on handmade paper brooches, Korean quilting, joomchi production (a Korean papermaking technique), and stitching a wedding bojagi. Complete beginners learned alongside artists experienced in other craft methods. A childlike sense of discovery was felt among many, as well with this writer who experienced his first introduction to sewing through these workshops.


Most of the teachers and students had already been introduced to each other through the conference and a convivial atmosphere despite mishaps had the sublimity of lacking the psychological barriers so often blocking a new experience. When something was needed, such as an iron for the wedding bojagi workshop, attendees easily volunteered aid or ideas. Even with some of the teachers speaking solely in Korean learning abounded on all sides.

Tours brought attendees to many of the different museums and art-related districts that exist in Seoul, such as the National Folk Museum of Korea, the Museum of Embroidery, the Leeum Samsung Museum, the Suwon Daesong Fortress, Insadong, and the Dongdaemun fabric market. An intense concentration of Seoul’s art and craft culture over several days, each site had its own memorable characteristics. At the Museum of Embroidery, a private museum, attendees met Dr. Hur again in an intimate gallery space which showed the Museum’s current exhibition, then all ascended to the next floor for refreshments in his apartment. The personal interest and hospitality expressed by him and his wife was just one example of the wonderfully human interactions that accompanied the Forum.

The conference stirred up more than its attendees. As the forum had satellite events occurring in other towns and cities, for instance Daegu, awareness of the importance of bojagi was spread to city and town officials who often partook of the unique gatherings. The festivities that accompanied the exhibitions and lectures even prompted the town official of Yongchun, the site of the Flowers Museum, to announce a yearly flower and bojagi festival. At the Museum of Natural Dyes, the wife of Daegu’s mayor was invited to the opening reception, with several other municipal and major museum officials also in attendance. One benefit of the Forum is that the government, locally and nationally, was introduced to the importance of the bojagi artform in a cohesive manner, and hopefully they will take up its cause, finding bojagi a valuable addition to Korea’s cultural identity and, not incidentally, a means of attracting more tourism to and within Korea.

The most salient aspect of the 2012 Korean Bojagi Forum was the flow of communication between attendees. The seeming cause for this was a connection shared by most of the visitors: all had been vetted, so to speak, by Chunghie Lee herself. Conference attendees included participating artists, gallerists, lecturers, journalists, and professors, so it was easy for conversation to flow between people with similar interests. This commonality led to the participants interacting more like parts of Lee’s extended family than complete strangers. Given that there was also a great deal of spirited discourse taking place, after such an experience, there is the sense that conferences might be more effective if one can attract a group of like-minded people all in one place.

The miracle of coordination that Lee and her daughter Jiyoung Chung orchestrated was on full display in the work of many Korean and international artists. These works were exhibited at a number of galleries and museums in several cities. From Heyri Art Village to the Museum of Natural Dyes, one hundred forty artists presented quilts, traditional bojagi, experimental interpretations, clothing, and even jewelry.

Artists did not just imitate the aesthetic of Korean patchwork. Bojagi as an artform has several stitching techniques, such as gekki, which enterprising artists also employed in their work. Thus, even pieces which strayed far from the definition had spiritual ties to the conference’s main subject.

With quilts, there is a vibrancy of color that accompanies the imprecise fashion in which images can be depicted. Thus, pieces like Hungsook Jang’s “A Phoenix Family” have a folk simplicity of design which is then lavishly accentuated by lush coloration. The quilting contingent exhibited at Lee & Park Gallery where American quilter Loraine Sample’s quilt resembled bojagi’s distinctive patchwork panels.

JIYOUNG CHUNG teaches a joomchi workshop.

Porcelain House Gallery showed wearables, and the various interpretations of the Korean folk tradition translated to clothing were often quite colorful in concept. Chunbum Bae’s “Rainbow City” dress takes large quilted shapes, circles, triangles, and squares, and assembles them into a dazzling sculpture of bright hues and puzzle shapes contrasting with black. Differing both in concept and appearance, Yeonhee Moon’s bojagi garment is like a traditional Korean hanbok, with subdued pastel shades that seen together form a rich tapestry of autumnal colors. Although Bae’s dress pushes the boundaries of the imagination, Moon’s creation shows bojagi can be elegantly and practically employed for wearable art. It was this versatility that was evident throughout the work of the artists. Even jewelry was made using textiles, as shown with Soonyoung Moon’s electroformed jewelry and stitched-cloth brooches and necklaces. Some of her pieces use a large semiprecious stone and the addition of cloth braids, making the textile the backdrop, contrasting element and complement. With her metal jewelry, Moon stitches a form before electroplating the fabric, producing delicate, asymmetric structures.

At the Museum of Natural Dyes in Daegu, there was a full blown exhibition where pieces by visiting artists commingled with traditional examples of Korean patchwork. Leonie Castelino’s textile sculpture used muted tones, in this case a wonderful, almost bronze-like brown. Serendipity led her to sew the piece like a funnel, or a vertical windsock. Castelino’s experience is primarily with the Japanese dyeing technique of shibori, but like most of the artists who attended she has become fascinated with bojagi. Castelino is enthusiastic about the artform, so much so that she wishes to teach the technique and become another ambassador for the art.

Lee’s good fortune in promoting bojagi is perhaps in part due to the unspoken universal message of patchwork. Its utilitarianism is a product of its birthplace among poor communities where every scrap was used. However, the people of those communities made it into something more, not just function but beauty. As a metaphor, particularly for the international Korean Bojagi Forum, it is not difficult to see every country, artist or culture as a “scrap” when brought together forms a glorious tapestry. This tapestry is made from many different, individual parts but exists as a composite whole. The Forum’s achievement was in communicating that awareness, not only through words but by human interaction and experience.


The honest and spontaneous exchanges of ideas, personal stories and interests are what we usually expect with our closest friends, but the 2012 Korean Bojagi Forum’s triumph was that accomplishment between strangers. Would that we could have this sort of fellowship with more people. Beyond bojagi, the Forum’s message was a lesson in humanity. Hopefully that message and an appreciation for this universal artform was imparted to all who were involved with the Forum. If so, the seeds have surely been planted for a blossoming in the future. Currently the Forum is planned to be a biennial event.

SUGGESTED READING Designintro. Korean Bojagi Changing into New Concept from Tradition. Seoul: National Folk Museum of Korea and Museum of Natural Dye Arts, 2012. Chung, Jiyoung, ed. From Rich Tradition to Contemporary Art: 2012 Korea Bojagi Forum. Providence, RI: Beyond and Above, 2011. Ree, Chyu. Pojagi: Patchwork & Quilts from Korea. Seoul: Chojun Textile & Quilt Art Museum, 2011. Kim, Youngsoon. Kim Youngsoon. Seoul: Ye Seo Won, 2011.



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