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On the Hanbok’s Journey

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Art history student advances research of Korean textiles and culture

​Yoo Jin Choi

​​

​Yoo Jin Choi examines a Korean textile in the conservation lab of George Washington University’s Textile Museum.​

University of Delaware graduate student Yoo Jin Choi discovered her love for Korean textile art in Washington, D.C. She obtained an internship at George Washington University’s Textile Museum while pursuing an M.A. degree in art history at the university. “It was an important step forward in my academic career,” said Choi, who is currently pursuing a curatorial track Ph.D. in art history at the University of Delaware.

When Choi began her curatorial internship in June 2018, the museum was developing a major exhibition, Korean Fashion: From Royal Court to Runway. After years of planning and a COVID-related postponement, the exhibition opened in August 2022. “It showcased hanbok (Korean traditional costumes) as well as their modern reinterpretations,” said Choi.

“My interest in Korean textiles gradually developed and transformed throughout the four years of internship experience,” said Choi. “Once a student who only had vague familiarity with East Asian material culture from childhood, I soon gained enthusiasm in Korean textile and its historical context.”

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hwarot (woman’s wedding robe)

​​Yoo Jin Choi studied this hwarot (woman’s wedding robe), during her visit to the collection facility of the Field Museum in Chicago.​

Choi learned that the exhibition’s main curator decided to add Korean textiles from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. “The news both thrilled and surprised me. I lived four years in Chicago prior, yet I had never heard that Korea participated in a nineteenth-century world’s fair in Chicago and left artifacts behind.”

After Choi graduated from GWU in 2019, she decided to extend her internship at the Textile Museum and continue her research. “Thanks to the curatorial research and experience from the internship, I have encountered and developed my research interests for [my] doctoral studies.”

“The majority of identified Korean textiles from the World’s Fair Columbian Exposition are housed at the Field Museum in Chicago. The Korean Fashion exhibition displayed nineteen objects loaned from the Field Museum collection, nine of which have a confirmed provenance of the 1893 World’s Fair,” said Choi.

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​Yoo Jin Choi’s research became part of Korean Fashion: From Royal Court to Runway, August to December 2022, at the George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.​

“In summer of 2019, I had a chance to visit the collection facility of the Field Museum to survey the nineteenth-century Korean textiles,” said Choi. “I was speechless when golden silk and colorful threads of fine embroideries on a boryo (horizontal seat cushion) for the last king of Joseon shined under the dim light. A finely quilted purple jeogori (shirt) worn by the king did not lose its vivid hue after a century of storage. Even a nineteenth-century red hwarot (wedding robe) that was not a part of the World’s Fair display had floral embroideries and gold-leaf stamps to represent the sophisticated traditions of nineteenth-century Korea.”

Choi hoped her research would increase awareness about the importance of Korean textile art. “What inspired me to pursue research in Korean textiles is its potential for new and original development in scholarship. While the objects are certainly in pristine condition under professional care, they often lack identification or supplementary documentation,” said Choi. “They rarely traveled outside of the collection facility since 1893, and only a few Korean scholars mentioned their existence and significance in publications. To overcome such obscurity of knowledge, I have consulted both Korean and English resources to understand and contextualize their historical significance and legacy in Korean culture.”

In 2021, Choi traveled to Seoul, South Korea, for a summer internship at Sookmyung Women’s University Museum. “It allowed me to examine East Asian embroideries that may share certain traditions and features. Simultaneously, I visited traditional fabric markets to find similar materials and designs that still survive in today’s consumer culture. In spring 2022, I communicated with modern hanbok designers and fashion archives to visualize the connection between hanbok and contemporary fashion. This incomplete and ongoing research became a part of the Korean Fashion exhibition, and I look forward to continuing the study.”

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About the Department of Art History

The Department of Art History at the University of Delaware is dedicated to education and research in the history of the visual arts. It has an established national and international reputation as the home of leading specialists in the field. It is also a hub for accessing important art centers in the Mid-Atlantic region. With special strengths in American and European art and architecture, the department offers an expansive coverage of the arts and culture of historical periods internationally, from Greco-Roman antiquity to the present. Broader geo-cultural fields are covered as well, such as Chinese, Latin American, and African art.

The Department of Art History is committed to undergraduate education for majors and non-majors and to training graduate students who will be competitive at the higher reaches of their discipline as educators, museum curators, and scholars. Its undergraduate program includes the general major, nine double majors, two minors, honors degrees, and an option for majors to earn an M.A. degree through the 4+1 program. For graduate students, the department offers M.A. and Ph.D. degrees.

Article by Yoo Jin Choi and University of Delaware staff

Images courtesy of Yoo Jin Choi and the George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum

September 12, 2022

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After discovering her love of Korean textile art, UD graduate student Yoo Jin Choi is advancing research on its cultural and historical significance.
Art History
 
9/12/2022
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