Date of this Version
Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii
Good afternoon. I am Jeeun Kim. I am a working artist and I teach fiber-art classes at universities in Seoul, Korea. My interest in this topic began with a textile history class I took at UH. The class was taught by Pat Hickman, my mentor, and covered the history of world textiles and the social roles and transformation of traditional textiles. This class stimulated my curiosity about the textiles of my own culture. The class taught me to look not only at the appearance of textiles and how they are made but also to look at the social roles of textiles in Korean culture. As a practicing artist who uses fiber as a medium, I have been paying special attention to the function and symbolism of fiber in traditional customs and culture as well as in traditional craft.
In this talk, I will focus on the symbolic role of the length of white cloth used in the ritual for the dead called Kut in Korea (Fig. 1a – Fig. 2b). I have chosen six different types of Kut, which vary depending on the region or the circumstance of the deceased person. The lengths of white cloth used in these rites carry different meanings and are called by different names, but mostly they represent a road to connect this world and the next world or a bridge to connect to a person and a god. Despite some differences, the purpose is the same in all six Kut: to wish the dead a peaceful exit from this world.
This act of using the length of white cloth in Kut is usually performed in the last part of the ceremony. This act (Figs. 4a and 4b) also has been adopted in various contemporary political demonstrations as a finale of the social gatherings. The interpretation and revival of this long tradition in political gatherings demonstrates that the symbolic meaning of the length of white cloth is well understood and carried on among Korean people. Lastly, I will introduce four Korean artists whose work I can relate to the notion of this ritual.