Bojagi: Art by the Women of Korea

Korean Quilted Bojagi Wrapping Cloth, Detail.

Once upon a time in a far off land the rulers forbad women from many activities that women today enjoy:  visiting with neighbors, leaving the house alone, or speaking their mind… To keep their sanity, the women developed a unique art form now on display at the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Folk Art.

We walked into the gallery and discovered that the walls were hung with beautiful multicolored textiles. The filmy textiles cast shadows on the wall, giving the pieces a 3-dimensional effect. We were looking at an exhibit of Bojagi, the traditional Korean gift-wrapping cloth.

These cloths were once the exclusive work of Korean women, but now the technique has traveled throughout the world. Many of the examples in this show were from Korea, but there are examples from the USA, Canada, Australia and a host of other countries. This is truly an international exhibition.

For 500 years, from 1392 to 1910, the conservative male rulers of Korea, perhaps fearful of the power of the talented Korean women, contrived a rigid set of social rules that were rigorously followed by every household. Under these rules Korean women were subjugated to their men: first to father, then after marriage to husband, then to their male sons, and so on. Out of this lamentable subjugation came an unusual art form, Bojagi.

Chunghie Lee, a visiting professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, curated the exhibit Bojagi and Beyond. She defines the art as:

Bojagi (Bo-Jah-ki)—traditional Korean wrapping cloths—is a centuries old Korean folk tradition of pieced textiles for everyday use or ceremonial purposes, hand-made by women in the domestic realm to fulfill a practical need along with an artistic impulse.

In recent years, the technique has also gained attention outside Korea due to a resurgence of interest in the handmade and crafting as well the use of recycled materials, and the politics of sustainability in textiles and contemporary art.

Many examples from  Bojagi and Beyond are in this exhibit, and Chunghie Lee’s catalog is on sale. The pictures in the catalog are stunning.

Take an art break and visit the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum to see this stunning exhibit, Wrapping Traditions: Korean Textiles Now, which will be on display until October 22, 2011.

Local artist Barbara Shapiro is exhibiting in the show. She will give a docent talk at the museum on September 17 at 2pm. She will also demonstrate the technique after the talk. This is your opportunity to try this art form out. Men are welcome, of course.

This exhibit has been written about in the Korean Press and is sponsored by the Korean government.

Day 73: Bojagi & Beyond, Chunghie Lee (2010).

Bojagi, SFMFCA, Wrapped Houses.

Bojagi, SFFCA Museum, Wrapped Houses.

Update: May, 2012. There is a Bojagi Exhibition video on the SF Craft Folk Art web site, see Past Exhibits.

About carto

Retired software engineer who grew up in Montana, went to Montana State College in Bozeman, and moved to California to work at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Carto's Logbook is about photography, travel and adventure; Mt. Maurice Times is tall tales mostly biographical; Carto's Library is about books I've read and liked.
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