Bojagi — traditional Korean square-shaped wrapping cloths distinguished by their unique colors and patterns — are perhaps most widely recognized for their frequent appearances in Korean period dramas and films. The art form, known for its versatility, is also found in homes across Korea: to keep meals warm, used as bags, as gift wrap for brides in weddings, and to adorn ceremonies in royal palaces.
Today, bojagi have gained prominence for their visual and cultural significance, recognized as a form of art with historical references, encompassing arts, design, the commercial sector, and even culinary arts.
The Bojagi Journey 2023 exhibit at the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum (PNWQFAM) in La Conner, Washington, expanded on the form’s versatility and creativity by presenting works of over 40 working international artists, each of whom showcased diverse forms of bojagi from traditional to contemporary, from conceptual to innovative, each artists’ origin infused their works with a distinct cultural influence. The show ran from July 26 until Oct. 8, 2023.
Patti King, the curator of the exhibit and an artist in the show, explained that one of the primary focuses of the exhibit was to “show connections between traditions and new ideas, to honor the past while engaging in present conversations with a wide range of artists practicing in a broad range of media.”
The exhibit was situated on the second floor of PNWQFAM, spanning across three rooms and hallways with their mahogany-colored walls and entrances. The featured bojagi encompassed a wide range of colors and techniques, from jogakbo — a style of patchwork traditionally used to create domestic wrapping cloths — to uniquely stitched and patched works that hung throughout the rooms.
The entire show was thoughtfully curated in the space, prompting a dialogue between the century-old Victorian mansion, which bears a sense of domesticity, and the 600-year-old traditional craft from Korea.
While works by Misik Kim and Ruth Marchese used bojagi’s traditional translucent fabrics like linen and silk, there were also works boldly experimenting with new materials and techniques, pushing the cultural boundaries of the form itself.
“Bojagi makes modern people who are seeking quickness think of ‘the aesthetics of slowness’ and look back on ourselves,” wrote artist Eunja Jeong in her artist statement. “Bojagi, which are natural dyeing, cutting, and sewing, represents one’s mind and expression.”
“The Tea Bag Panel,” for example, by Heather Brinko was a patchwork of used tea bags, while Bella Youngok Kim’s “Jogakbo Journey: Into Green, 2023,” featured sewn recycled plastic packings and fabrics, introducing new and ecologically conscious reconstruction of the core concepts of bojagi — frugality and honoring of scrap material.
The exhibit also included elegantly draped jogakbo dresses by Chunghie Lee that deconstructed the traditional jogakbo form by creating a dress as a wearable bojagi.
Lasse Antonsen and Elin Noble’s “Glamsbjerg,” utilized a Scandinavian ink dying technique for their work, using apple tree leaves, bark, and fruits to create an unconventionally warm and earth toned bojagi. The wall text accompanying their piece read that they “see their work as a search for beauty, and as an homage to the endless variety of colors and light found in nature.”
Another distinctive bojagi piece by Miran Lee, “A Fish Out of Water,” was a woven fish hanging above. The work was inspired by Lee’s visit to a Buddhist temple, where the artist encountered an open-eyed, wooden fish hanging from the temple’s ceiling.
The fish, here, is a symbol of devotion and its all-seeing eye through day and night, across the sea and land. This experience evoked Lee’s empathy and respect for the fish, who considers herself a ‘diaspora artist.’ She cites her dual identity, search for belonging between two worlds, and being “a fish out of water” as her creative inspiration.
Each of these transnational bojagi works explore the artists’ internal and physical cultural landscapes, leading viewers to experience different times and locations through the materials, textures, and views of foreign lands. The exhibit also significantly challenged the 600-year-old, historically feminized labor of bojagi making by moving beyond the borders of gender, culture, and national identity.
Each bojagi work in The Bojagi Journey 2023, much like real people, were imbued with their own unique histories. They interpreted the stories of many different places and embraced the art form’s core nature without sacrificing its distinct identity, with even the disassembled and reconstructed bojagi pieces paying tribute to bojagi’s original essence of inclusivity.
Through both the historical and modernized forms, cultural and visual languages, The Bojagi Journey 2023 instills the everyday, a contemplative nature of this form. This is the unifying message threaded throughout this exhibit. This exhibit brought forth the subtle beauty of the everyday, the embrace of bojagi, reinterpreted through time, in our increasingly unpredictable and fast-changing present moment.