The Korean Cultural Center Presents Kumjoo Ahn, Julia Kwon, and Wonju Seo Tradition Transformed: Bojagi

By Editorial Team on January 7, 2019

Fri, 11 January 2019 - Fri, 22 February 2019

Julia Kwon, Like Any Other: No. 38, Fabric, thread, and wire, 2016. Courtesy of The Korean Cultural Center.
Opening Reception: Friday, January 11 at 6pm

The Korean Cultural Center Washington, DC proudly presents its opening exhibition of 2019, Tradition Transformed: Bojagi, featuring vibrant fiber works that capture the artistry and originality of the traditional Korean wrapping cloth, bojagi, by artists Kumjoo Ahn, Julia Kwon, and Wonju Seo. These three Korean American artists strive to convey deep social and emotional commentary through the integration of traditional techniques and innovative contemporary artistry in their work.

By transforming an iconic traditional art and craft like bojagi in terms of both style and substance, Ahn, Kwon, and Seo tackle questions of women’s evolving role in society, the notion of feminine art, and experiences of both cultural shock and cultural harmony between East and West. As immigrants with deeply felt roots, they also endeavor to preserve the classical beauty and sensibilities of Korean traditional handicrafts, while staying faithful to their perspectives as modern women capable of transforming traditions.

Bojagi (보자기), the traditional Korean wrapping cloth, is a centuries-old Korean folk tradition that utilizes patchwork textiles for both everyday use and ceremonial purposes. Bojagi are traditionally hand- made by women in the domestic realm to fulfill a practical need for wrapping items to carry, but also artistic expression. In this way, they bear some resemblance to traditional American quilts, although bojagi are usually of a lighter, at times gossamer texture suitable for simple knotting. Today, bojagi are a popular, ecological alternative to disposable papers and plastics, the reusable wrap itself representing a gift. The geometric patterns and vivid color composition of bojagi are also now recognized as exemplary works of modern design, leading to various creative integrations with contemporary Korean art.

Tradition Transformed: Bojagi also commemorates Korean American Day on January 13, designated by the U.S. Congress in 2005 as an annual recognition of the contributions to society and culture by Korean Americans over more than a century.

Admission to the exhibition opening reception featuring talks by the artists on Friday, January 11 at 6:00 p.m. is free and open to the public, but registration is required at Tradition Transformed: Bojagi will remain on view during regular hours through February 22, 2019.

About the Artists

Kumjoo Ahn strives to convey aesthetic value, practicality, and the virtues of perseverance and moderation that were expected and required of women in Korea through her contemporary fiber art works. The handicraft art of traditional women’s quarters (known collectively as gyubang) such as embroidery, bojagi, knots, natural cloth dying, and quilting are considered representative women’s arts in Korea. In particular, Ahn creates each of her unique works to harmonize concepts of East and West, combining European embroidery of London’s royal school of needlework with Korean traditional handicraft. By incorporating contemporary fiber art techniques into Korean traditional embroidery design, Ahn hopes to amplify the beauty and potential of traditional and contemporary Korean textile arts as she introduces them to new audiences.

Born in Gochang County in South Korea’s North Jeolla Province, Ahn was raised in the capital Seoul, where she received her MFA from Kookmin University. Ahn studied under Hee Soon Yoo and Hyun Hee Kim (Masters of Traditional Korean Embroidery), as well as Eun Young Kim (recognized as one of Korea’s Important Intangible Cultural Assets). After moving to the United States, she received her certification in traditional English hand-embroidery from the Royal School of Needlework in London. Ahn’s work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Fort Lee Public Library, Newark School of the Arts, K&P Gallery in New York, and La Porte Peinte Gallery in France, and her work is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum. For a year, Ahn demonstrated embroidery techniques at the Blue House, the office of the President of the Republic of Korea, in the cultural space for visitors known as Sarangchae. She also taught Korean traditional crafts in Malaysia, France, New Zealand, and the United State as part of her efforts to introduce the value of Korean traditional crafts.

Julia Kwon examines gender, ethnicity, and the construction of identity within the contemporary context of globalism and cultural hybridity. In particular, Kwon aims to destabilize pre-existing notions of what it means to be “Korean” or “feminine” through her textile works. By transforming and rupturing standard traditional Korean patterns and color compositions, such as saekdong (색동) or dancheong (단청), Kwon explores the transition of Korean women’s symbols and rituals. Kwon questions her experience of being objectified and judged as a Korean American woman through her traditional and invented textiles of hybridity, which contain her cultural heritage and current perspective.

Kwon was born in Northern Virginia and earned her M.F.A. at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/Tufts University and her B.A. in Studio Art at Georgetown University. She has received various awards and recognitions, including the artist residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Vermont Studio Center, and Textile Arts Center. Kwon has held solo exhibitions at Montgomery College’s Maze Gallery in Silver Spring, Md., University of Rochester’s Hartnett Gallery in Rochester, N.Y., Hillyer Art Space in Washington, D.C., Textile Arts Center in New York, N.Y., and the Project Space of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Alberta, Canada. She has also recently been awarded the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University’s Traveling Fellowship.

For more information, visit the artist’s website at

Wonju Seo visualizes the process of redefining cultural identity, inspired by her childhood memories in Korea and current life in the United States as an immigrant. Seo creates her unique geometric abstract style by combining silk painting and mixed media collage techniques with the skills of centuries-old traditional bojagi, especially chogakbo, the Korean patchwork cloth made out of colorful scraps of natural fabric. In the Korean custom, stitching to connect small pieces of fabric is considered a blessing of good fortune and longevity, the meaning of which Seo hopes to convey to all viewers of her art as they share in art and life together.

Seo is a New Jersey-based artist born in Seoul, South Korea, where she received her B.F.A. in Fine Arts Painting from Hong-Ik University in 1988. After graduating, she worked as a designer and a commercial silk painting artist. In 1998, she moved to the United States to continue her career as an artist. She currently lives and works in Bergen County, N.J. Seo is the recipient of the 2018 and 2012 Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and a QBL Fellowship from the Schweinfurth Art Center, N.Y. She received the Thomas Contemporary Quilt Recognition Award (Collector’s Choice) from the Visions Art Museum, Ca., and an Honorable Mention from the Smithtown Township Arts Council, N.Y. Her works have been selected by juries in national and international art competitions, and she has presented her work in solo, group, and juried group exhibitions in numerous galleries and museums. Seo’s works are in the permanent collections of the Newark Museum and the Charles B. Wang Center.

For more information, visit the artist’s website at

Korean Cultural Center is located at 2370 Massachusetts Ave. NW.