'Hanbok' research for the exhibition 'Looms & Battle' in 2018

#한복 #Hanbok

Girls in hanbok with spectacular gold leaf hems giggle in puffy petticoatesque skirts pulled up past the ankles. A group of young men passes by with perfectly combed and dyed hair, wearing the unlikely combination of durumagi tunics and running shoes. The selfies they take as they cross Gwanghwa-mun Square and crowd into Gyeongbokgung Palace are a new cultural phenomenon known as “#hanbokstagram”, a testament to the visual incongruity of strolling through the heart of 21st century Seoul while clad in hanbok.
To Koreans, the hanbok is less a fashion statement than it is a symbol, a metaphor loaded with meanings like “traditional dress of the Korean people”, “representation of the Korean people”, “identity”, and “cultural values”. Before its elevation to the status of a national symbol, the hanbok was daily wear wrapped around the bodies of the Korean people on the Korean peninsula from cradle to grave. The influx of foreign cultures in modern times brought with it the need for a distinction between hanbok—then simply known as “clothes”—and non Korean clothing. The name “hanbok” (lit. Korean clothing) came about as a response. National priorities like modernization and industrialization took away the use for hanbok in daily life, transforming the once mundane dress into a symbol. To wear a hanbok was to indicate that something unusual was happening, an encapsulation of the unusual situation and actions that would be taking place.
For instance, a man in North Korea wearing joseon-ot (the North Korean word for hanbok) would be a reminder of the traditional feudalism that oppressed the people; a photo of hanbok-clad people on a calendar owned by ethnic Koreans in Russia would be a reminder of their homeland and their holidays and traditions; a hanbok uniform for a Korean school in Japan would be a reminder of the violence wearers may face in their society; the purple hanbok worn by the wives of South Korean democracy activists would be a symbol of the democratization movement; and finally, the photos uploaded under the hashtag #hanbokstagram would symbolize a new form of entertainment. The act of possessing or donning a hanbok takes on different meanings depending on the time and place. These different contexts deviate from the ways hanbok is worn or owned in the thoughts of the Korean mainstream but retain some semblance of the hanbok’s fundamental aesthetics and composition.
#hanbok is an attempt to connect the intersections between the actions of those wearing the traditional clothing and their historical contexts and present realities, with a focus especially on the act of wearing hanbok. Composed of hanbok and quotes and pictures pertaining to them from premodern times to the present day, each image has been categorized with hashtags and organized into themed groups. The images have been spread out without regard for hierarchy, gravity, or order, providing a multifaceted view into hanbok—a view that places more emphasis on the act of wearing a hanbok than the symbolism of the hanbok as a representation of the Korean people.