Christin Yu is a PhD researcher in the History of Design programme at the Royal College of Art in conjunction with the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, UK. Her work explores identity, nationalism, mythologies, gendering processes and cultural imaginaries through the lens of Korean patchwork tradition. Her practice as a textile designer for Alexander McQueen (2012-2017) and Peter Pilotto (2011-2014) inform her lens of material analysis through making.

The patchwork archive: exploring chogakbo as institutionalised object

Korean patchwork handicrafts, chogakbo, exist in the South Korean imaginary through varying origin stories: rooted in shamanistic, folkloric, Buddhist and Confucian traditions, simultaneously. Today, the technique acts as a symbolic signifier of ‘Korean’ identity internationally and has much to reveal of South Korea through histories of colonialism, Cold War geopolitics, post-war traumas and reconstruction, postcolonial identifications, neonationalism, US imperial policies and the rise of the ‘Asian Tiger’ economy. All the while, this dynamic form offers stories and voices of underrepresented histories that shape Korean womanhood.

Patchwork, by definition, is an amalgam of disparate parts; its shape offers radically non-reductive strategies to understand cultural identities through forms that initially appear to be static, but in actuality are eroding, mending, adapting, fading, accommodating, growing, and constantly changing. By examining objects in institutional archives, I ask how chogakbo reveal histories that trouble the rigid impression of South Korean identity – which was predominately defined and reinforced through neonationalist cultural policies during the period of General Park Chung Hee’s leadership (1963-1979). Deploying feminist and post/decolonial strategies, I record stories attributed to the handicraft through my interpretations of patchwork technique (as an embodied woman of the Korean diaspora and textile maker), supplemented by interviews with curators, archivists and makers. These polyphonic voices serve to trouble the singular, linear trajectory that defines mythologies of South Korean womanhood, while foregrounding questions around relationships of domestic labour, industrialisation, modernity, ornamentalism, and Christianity.