The journey of a garment through history

With the continued rise in anti-Asian violence and scapegoating during the pandemic, some Korean Americans have also embraced the hanbok as a symbol of cultural pride in the face of xenophobic assaults. At her recent solo exhibition, “Late Bloomer,” at the Hashimoto Contemporary gallery in Los Angeles, Seonna Hong, 48, displayed two handmade hanboks, “a tribute to my heritage,” she said. . Made from upcycled clothing, curtains, canvas, denim jeans and a vintage Butterick sewing pattern she found on Etsy, “it’s a reflection of who I am, in that I am a patchwork of cultures and different generational experiences”.

While researching pioneering Fluxus artist Nam June Paik in Miami, where he died in 2006, Ms. Choi, the art consultant, was moved when she came across his final work, “Ommah.” (Mother), in which a traditional overcoat, called a durumagi, wraps around a looping video of three young Korean American girls playing games while dressed in hanboks.

“It just moved me to know that this was his last job,” Ms. Choi said. “For me, it symbolizes the lineage of this sadness that is in every Korean because of our very recent and traumatic history that is not talked about much, especially in the diaspora, where it is considered: ‘That was then, it ‘was there’. .’”

What struck her watching “Pachinko,” she added, was “how close that past really is and how much change there has been in such a short time: technologically, culturally , geopolitically”. It’s also a stark reminder, she says, of what her own grandmothers wore when they were young, just two generations ago.

“With the worldwide resurgence of interest in Korean culture, hanbok may just be a trend for many people, but for me, this validation is not necessary for who I am,” Ms. Choi. “It’s just who we are – and it’s beautiful to embrace.”

Michael O. Stutler