Wonju Seo is a Korean American textile artist born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, where she received her BFA in Fine Arts Painting from Hong-Ik University in 1988. She currently lives and works in Bergen County, NJ. After graduating from art college, she worked as a designer and a commercial silk painting artist. In 1998, she moved to the U.S. to continue her career as an artist. After her marriage, Seo started creating geometric abstract textile art, which utilizes the traditional Korean sewing method that retains the aesthetics of color and shape of Korean traditional wrapping cloth called Bojagi with a modern twist. She has taught Bojagi making at many schools, museums, and organizations in the U.S. and South Korea. Seo’s works are in the permanent collections of the Newark Museum, NJ and the Charles B. Wang Center, Stony Brook University, NY.
“Tradition meets modernity as a geometric abstraction”
Wonju Seo's work is influenced by the Korean textile tradition, Bojagi. Bojagi is a Korean patchwork wrapping cloth made out of colorful scraps of natural fabric used for making traditional Korean costumes called Han-bok. Her inspiration also comes from the history of women’s lives and their artistic inspiration in ancient Korea. Bojagi was made and used by all classes of women, who lived between the 14th and 19th Centuries. It was used for wrapping, covering, and transporting everyday objects.
To create her abstract geometric textile artwork, Seo combines silk painting and mixed media collage techniques with the skills of Bojagi making, such as hand sewing, folding, and embroidery. She revisits the pure geometry constructed in antique Bojagi forms and reinterprets it through her artistic view with contemporary concerns. Seo imports Korean natural fabrics, such as silk, cotton, ramie, and hemp from South Korea, and creates her own colors by overlapping two or more pieces of sheer organza of different colors or painting on silk using water-based silk pigments. She adapts her technique not only for installation pieces but also for functional art, book art, etc.
Her works visualize her process of redefining her personal and cultural identity asking questions like “Where am I from?” “Where am I now?”, and “Where am I heading towards?”. She revisits her childhood in a patriarchal society and her current adulthood in Western society. The exterior shapes of her work “Through My Window” symbolize a window through which Seo observed the outside world as a child. The window meant both freedom to explore the unknown world and also a boundary of comfort and safety. Additionally, the window represents her dream and desire to explore the world, much like the dreams and desires of many Korean women who grew up in the traditional Confucian culture.
The dynamic geometric lines and powerful contrasts of colors represent herself as an active, creative, and contemporary woman. Finally, the patchworks in “Wrapping with Blessings” convey her best wishes for her viewers, as the stitching of small pieces of the fabric means a blessing of good fortune and longevity in Korean culture.