Bojagi Journey 2023 is an international exhibition of bojagi-inspired works currently on view at the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum in La Conner, Washington, through October 8, 2023. Handcrafted artworks by 29 invited international artists and 18 regional student artists feature a wide spectrum of interpretations of this ancient Korean textile craft.
Originally a functional object used to wrap household objects and for ceremonial use, bojagi—the Korean wrapping cloth—has been replaced in the modern age by disposable bags and boxes. But, for nearly 600 years the wrapping cloth, which was made exclusively by women, was a mundane presence in Korean households. But many of the women elevated the craft to a high level by incorporating embroidery, rich silks, and complex patchwork designs made from small scraps of cloth.
L-R: Charlotte Yde, Bojagi with Sails; Alyn Carlson, Garment; Elin Noble, Apple-dyed Bojagi; Misik Kim, Moon Jar.
Jogakbo, the patchwork form of bojagi, evolved from the culture of poverty where every scrap of fabric was precious. When enough scraps were saved, they were pieced together to create a whole cloth. Contemporary artists have been working primarily in this mode, inspired by the infinite geometric and color possibilities.
Bojagi has become a global phenomenon in the textile art world since being introduced more than 40 years ago by the Korean artist Chunghie Lee, through teaching, lecturing, and solo exhibitions. Lee taught bojagi annually at the Rhode Island School of Design for nearly 20 years, introducing bojagi to US students as well as students from around the world. The exhibition Bojagi Journey 2023 illustrates the journey that bojagi has taken and will, in Chunghie Lee’s words, “become an important event in the history of bojagi.”
Misik Kim, Moon Jar; 2017; polyester silk; machine stitched; 50 x 25 in. each
Hyunjoo Cho, Hidden Treasure; 2022; hemp, ramie, cotton, silk; hand stitched; 14.5 x 12.25 in.
My goal as curator was to present an expanse of bojagi-inspired work, from the most traditional and highly refined hand-stitched pieces made from traditional materials such as silk, ramie, and hemp, to those using unconventional materials such as porcelain, stained tea bag papers, plastic packaging materials, and painted wood, to name a few.
The exhibition also includes a special exhibit of small, beginner bojagis stitched by students in the one-day workshops I’ve been offering during the past two years. These pieces are intimate studies in color and composition, created spontaneously and exhibiting the unique mark making of each student’s hand stitching. Chunghie Lee commented, “Including the beginners’s works alongside the work of highly accomplished artists expands the diversity and serves as a kind of road map of the bojagi journey.” With minimal reference to the art form, these student works are highly innovative and diverse.
Miran Lee, Fish Out of Water; 2018; silk organza; hand stitched; 45 x 110 in.
My personal bojagi journey began in 2004 when I went to Korea for the first time to visit my son. Over the ensuing years, I travelled there often and was introduced to the bojagi art form. I took a workshop from Chunghie Lee at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in 2007, and the rest is history. My deepest gratitude goes to my son, Nick Iacovino, for opening the door to Korea for me and to Chunghie Lee for setting me on the bojagi path. My deep connection with Korea now includes my daughter-in-law Heejae and her family, including her very talented mother, Hyunjoo Cho, whose quilt work has appeared in Fiber Art Now.
From its origins six centuries ago to the present day, the art of bojagi engages the maker in a process that is intimate and meditative, combining the repetitive stitching motions with the joy of working with unique materials—connecting them, piece by piece, into a whole cloth. With the global influence of bojagi, artists from diverse backgrounds and cultures are now cross pollinating, demonstrating our shared humanity through their creations.