Shapes of Life Accomplished with Weft and Warp

SNU People

I am curious about your childhood. Were you a child with manual dexterity?


I was born in Uljin, North Gyeongsang Province, in 1930. Although I was fond of the sea, a two-kilometer walk away, I lived closer to the forest and trees. I was eager to help my mother with her sewing work, but I revealed an innate talent for drawing. At the time, my drawings were published and introduced in the elementary school newspaper. My teacher would praise them. “You are good at drawing so you should definitely go to art school and become a painter.” My parents were against that idea. They warned me that I could not make a living by drawing. Other than that, it was rare for women to go to college at the time.


In 1950, you were admitted to the Department of Applied Arts, the College of Fine Arts.How was your college life at the time?


Female students were scarce at the time. Most women in those days would be married after graduating from elementary or middle school. Except for two to three female seniors and juniors, the students were all male. Even worse, I needed to flee to Busan due to the outbreak of war not long after I entered college. During the evacuation, I continued to study and draw alone.


It was a time when there was no genre of fiber art. What attracted your interest?

First of all, materials such as thread, needles, and cloth were familiar to women at that time. From childhood, I had grown up watching my mother make and mend clothes and sew duvets. I frequently encountered sewing work while I was living alone in Seoul during my college years. Absent the genre of fiber art at the time, I made various attempts myself. Because the period was not as prosperous as it is now, and decent materials were insufficient, I conducted artistic experiments with sacks, insect screens, wallpaper, and leftover fabric that were abundant nearby. I also purchased an old sweater and unraveled the thread for use.


I heard that your debut artwork received a negative appraisal.


At the time, artwork with thread was classified as equivalent to embroidery, such as refined embroidery on silk or nobang. In contrast, because I arbitrarily sewed, twisted, glued, and unraveled thread, I could imagine how chaotic and eccentric it looked to others. I would often hear “You embroidered with your toes; you ruined the embroidery sphere.” This was because my works shattered the stereotypes of artwork involving thread.


You are the first artist to submit a tapestry to the “Republic of Korea Art Exhibition.”

You said you had no teacher or learning opportunities. How did you get started?


No artist in South Korea at the time had ever created artwork with fibers. I first encountered a tapestry during my trip to Paris in the 1970s. The moment I saw the tapestry work, I became inspired by curiosity. That was the beginning. The most challenging part of creating this work was that I had no teacher to learn from. Along with relentless effort, I had become either an instructor or a student to produce artwork each time. Afterwards, this lack of previous work set another assignment on the curriculum requiring countless hours of toil and research while I was teaching tapestry to students. This was because I felt obliged to teach it suitably. I was further able to draw ideas from students while instructing and presenting themes that I had never attempted. I indulged in teaching as much as in creating the work.


Diverse variations in the works are seen depending on your art period.
I am curious about your motivation during these periods.


In the 1950s, I experimented with thread and needles in ways distinct from conventional approaches, and in the 1960s, I added dyeing and weaving to these experiments. I applied various techniques to capture nature in my art pieces and express myself. I would further gain inspiration by visiting art museums and exhibitions overseas. I reflected motifs from large tapestries in my works. My artworks melt everything I have seen, learned, and felt in my life. I utilized what I learned from my grandmother's loom, and further embodied the light and feeling of the sea, mountains, and trees from my hometown. The lines and colors in the works also reflected the feelings and emotions I felt at the time. This embodiment has fueled unceasing change in the works.


Several exhibitions have been held overseas. What was the reaction to your oeuvres?


The small-scale exhibitions that were held several times amazed visitors, and provoked favorable reactions. This is because my artwork was completely different from Western tapestries. Features like ink paintings, as well as the colors and lines, shared the sentiment of Asian paintings and provoked different emotions and thus generated a keen interest.


You have long been a devoted educator. Is there anything you would like to share with aspiring student artists?


As times have changed, it is insufficient to learn what someone else teaches. A demand arose in aspiring students to gain unique experiences, and to investigate what inspired me. Despite absent instructors and the harsh environment, I was able to avoid any confinement while working alone and confronting poor conditions. I encourage students to maintain openness to the world and seek various experiences without settling for what they are learning. People are happiest when they do what they want to do. You may be able to recount a different story when you are equipped with your own independent perspective. I recommend that you discover your uniqueness.


Visitors of all ages continue to visit your retrospective exhibition held at the MMCA. How do you feel about that?


Marvelous. My visit to this place stirs genuine emotions about my entire life. It is laborious to hold this large-scale exhibition. Thus, I am merely grateful. Each artwork reminds me of the feelings, time, and life I experienced at the time. I would like to express my special gratitude to all the visitors who paid a visit to this retrospective exhibition with hopes for their respective insights and impressions.


September 29, 2023
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