Fragments and Borders: A Modern History of Korean Women and Patchwork
Patchwork is an amalgam of pieces. By sewing together fragments, a new form is created through the assemblage of separate parts. In South Korea, the textile culture of patchwork is defined as jogakbo, an iteration of the wrapping cloth, bojagi. The traditional handicraft has been nationally recognized as representative of women’s labour, reinforcing Confucian values that promoted the importance of needlework. Aligned with folk culture, the lack of the form’s presence in courtly historical records has implied that the craft was made by common people. The national narrative reiterates patchwork as built through poverty, and material precarity. It now serves as a potent symbol for Korea’s creativity and survival.
This work aims to build multiple definitions of Korean patchwork that develop from but are not bound to jogakbo. In doing so, it explores the histories of modern Korean women through patchwork practices situated during the timeframe of colonial-modernity (c. 1910-1945), post-Korean War reconstruction (1953-), the formation of a new South Korean identity in the aftermath of geopolitical partition (1948-), and the development of the nation as a global economic power (c. 1980s). This research asks how Korean patchwork constructs national memory through women’s labour and beauty practices, and importantly, how it heals postcolonial identities by highlighting the possibilities for patchwork as a decolonial method. Through processes of mending, and reworking, patchwork is a growing structure, defined by an unbounded potential. The form offers a potent lens to imagine multiplicity for modern Korean women through a method of becoming.