Education About Asia

Using Korean Bojagi in the Classroom

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Bojagi: An Introduction

Bojagi (sometime written pojagi) is a traditional Korean folk art consisting of patchwork cloths made from scrap fabrics such as cotton, silk, ramie, and hemp. These practical cloths of varying sizes were present in Korea as early as the fourteenth century and were used to cover and contain items such as gifts, beds, tables, and foods. The art has historically been passed down through generations of unnamed female artists and were used by Korean people from all classes, commoners and royalty alike.  Traditionally, girls learned needlework at a young age, and bojagi became a rare outlet for creative expression.

The handmade textile covers embodied personal sentiments “stitched” into each design. The artist carefully selected colors, patterns, and even stylized embroidered imagery from nature, such as peonies and bats, to become symbols and metaphors for good fortune, longevity, happiness, and more. Commonly, bojagi is made from a minimalist design of squares and rectangles recalling images similar to modern-era European paintings by the likes of Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian. Bojagi were triple-stitched with raised seams, allowing their images to be reversible, durable, and reusable. The textiles could be wrapped over objects into a number of similar forms, much like those of origami.

Historically, bojagi were not only decorative but were also used in religious and symbolic ways. Often, bojagi became family heirlooms. Today, contemporary bojagi fiber artists such as Chungie Lee have reinvented the medium not only as a means of honoring the history of Korean women, but as a relevant, versatile art that is often intertwined with fashion and photography.

Recommended Readings

BOOKS

Connor, Mary E. The Koreas (Asia in Focus). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2009.

Lee, Chunghie. Bojagi & Beyond. Providence: Beyond & Above, 2010.

Playford, Jennifer. Wrapagami: The Art of Fabric Gift Wraps. New york: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009.

Schoettler, Joan, and Jessica Lanan. Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth. Walnut Creek: Shen’s Books, 2011.

WEBSITES

Asian Art: http://www.asianart.org

Asian Art—Korea Galley Guide: http://tiny.cc/vh3zyw

Bojagi artist, Youngmin Lee: www.youngminlee.com/bojagi

Bojagi artist, Chunghie Lee: http://www.chunghielee.com/chunghie_lee.htm

Quilt artist, Eliza Fernand: http://elizafernand.com/home.htmln