My work comments on gender and ethnicity. It explores different ways for creating ruptures on Korean patterns. I activate the textile in relation to the frame, which become metaphors for framing and societal expectations for the authentic. I create color gradients that turn to white to comment on the act of erasure and whitewashing. I utilize safety pins and text to not only respond to the divisive rhetoric and policies that are currently being put in place, but also consider notions about language, symbols, labels, activism, allyship, power and privilege.
The work is inspired by my experience of being seen as “the other.” I aim to capture the tension that arises from the divide between different social groups and the mindset of “us versus them.” I create textiles in the format of Korean object-wrapping cloth called bojagi. By employing bojagi that was historically a creative outlet for Korean women who had limited contact with the outside world during the Joseon Dynasty, I consider ideas such as tradition, craft, and feminized labor.
The textiles I create symbolize what it means to be “Korean.” My work is not simply a representation of minority identities, but rather a commentary on the dehumanizing, problematic process of being identified, reduced, and categorized. I combine traditional Korean textile with contemporary patterns to consider both the past and the present to further investigate the idea of authenticity as well as the idea of cultural hybridity and transnationalism. By meticulously sewing colorful Korean textiles, I cherish my cultural background. However, through imposing various disruptions and overburdening the textiles with “ethnic” patterns, I not only convey my experience of being objectified and judged superficially, but also expose and undercut the very preconceptions others may have based on my gender and ethnicity. My work shifts the focus from the search for authentic origins and clear categories to the complexities of hybridity and individual subjectivities.
Left versus Right, South versus North
Silk and thread
safety pins, satin, and thread
New Banners, Same Old Struggles
Safety pins, silk and thread
Julia Kwon sews interpretative bojagi—Korean object-wrapping cloths historically created since the early Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910)—and wraps hallow human-scale figures with them to comment on the objectification of Asiatic female bodies. Further, she embeds patterns from contemporary sociopolitical events to challenge the notion of authenticity and examine the complexities of constructing identity within the context of globalism, cultural hybridity, and intersectionality. Kwon also explores community and personal relationship building through collaborative projects such as communal quilting, one-on-one portrait drawing, and building a community that shares local artist talks.
Julia Kwon earned her M.F.A. at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University and B.A. in Studio Art at Georgetown University. She was also a participant at the Chautauqua School of Art residency program.
Her work has been exhibited nationally including art galleries such as Hartnett Gallery of the University of Rochester and Torpedo Factory Art Center. Her work has been featured and reviewed internationally including in television programs such as PBS’s WETA Arts series that showcases the creative arts scene in the Greater Washington DC area as well as one of the major Korean national television networks SBS’s international news.
Kwon won awards such as the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University's Traveling Fellowship as well as the artist residencies at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Vermont Studio Center, NARS Foundation, Montgomery College, Gallery 263, and Textile Arts Center. She presented artist lectures and workshops at Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Phillips Collection, Georgetown University, Lehigh University, University of Rochester, Emerson College, Montgomery College, among others. Her work is included in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC.