Work in Progress: Julia Kwon

During the month of May, we have the pleasure of hosting Julia Kwon as our Work in Progress (WIP) resident at TAC. She is an interdisciplinary artist who is passionate about the process of making as well as visually actualizing ideas using diverse media. Her current work addresses gender and ethnicity as a way to comment on the dehumanizing, problematic process of being identified, reduced and categorized. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Julia to talk about her creative process and the future of her work.

IMG_2915On her creative background:

“My art education started with painting and drawing during my undergraduate studies at Georgetown University. Then during my M.F.A. program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University, I expanded my practice into textile, sculpture and installation. I became involved with textile art quite organically as it allowed me to effectively talk about my experiences of being seen differently based on my gender and ethnicity. I chose to work with textiles, because it is not just one surface-level information that is often used to judge a person at first sight; it can also be imbued with a sense of rich history, cultural sensibilities and specific locality.”

“I have been working with traditional textiles that feel very familiar and Korean to me. However, I also use specific fabrics or imageries that seem but are not actually Korean to challenge the notion of what it means to be Korean. Textiles allow me to not only reference tradition and history, but also play up people’s preconception of what it means to be a Korean woman and invite viewers into possibly confronting their own prejudices.”

“Some of my earliest memories of textiles involve my family. I remember my mother making curtains and drapes for the windows of my childhood home and restoring worn-out furniture by sewing new covers for them. I also remember seeing my grandmother and great-grandmother’s meticulous embroidery work on their homemade traditional Korean thimbles. I still very much appreciate their artistic, DIY spirit as well as their technical skills and attention to detail.”

IMG_2908On her work environment:

“I work on my projects as much and as often as I can. However, my studio practice also involves a lot of planning and other administrative work as well. Some types of work are directly related to the completion of a specific project while others are necessary to stay inspired and sustain my practice. Reading, researching, journaling, going to art exhibitions, meeting and supporting other artists, and following the current events are as important as physically making work in the studio.”

“I believe in an artistic environment that emphasizes critical thinking, experimentation and dedication in the studio as well as open discourse and generosity. So having ongoing conversations with other people and being a part of an artist community are what I keep constant for my studio practice. I have been fortunate so far to have had opportunities to work in so many wonderful places with amazing artist communities, including my schools and different artist residencies. All the conversations that I have had with fellow artists as well as the friends and mentors that I have met along the way continue to motivate and support me to become a better artist.”

IMG_0148On the impact of her work:

“Art-making is the struggle to better understand myself, the world I live in, and what it means to live fully and justly. Through my current body of work, I aim to present my specific point of view and experiences as a Korean American woman as well as to spark conversations and position us to experience a more sweeping glance at issues regarding gender and ethnicity. I hope people become aware of the way they see me and the dehumanizing experiences caused by preconceptions. Further, I want people who have had similar experiences to know that they are not alone in the struggle to be seen as a distinct and multifaceted human being.”

“I enjoy exhibiting my work in different environments. I am often thrilled to see my work being read differently in different contexts whether it is due to a change in the physical gallery space or shift in the social, political or cultural context.”

IMG_2933On the techniques she uses:

“My current work comments on gender and ethnicity. It is not simply a representation of minority identities, but rather a commentary on the dehumanizing, problematic process of being identified, reduced and categorized. By meticulously recreating colorful Korean textiles through painting and sewing, I am cherishing my cultural background. However, through overburdening the textiles with ‘ethnic’ patterns and treating the human-scale figures like objects, I not only convey my experience of being objectified and judged superficially, but also expose and undercut the very preconceptions others may have based on my gender and ethnicity.”

“I am an interdisciplinary artist who is passionate about the process of making as well as visually actualizing ideas using diverse media. I enjoy working in different media and techniques that allow me to effectively talk about the themes and subject matters of my work. I aim to focus equally on the formal, technical and conceptual aspects of my work.”

“I start planning, researching and brainstorming before physically working on a project. Examining my work with criticality allows me to gain clarity on my intent and makes it easier to decide how I can effectively execute it. Open-ended experimentation and spontaneous decision making usually happen within an environment that I have set up after consideration. I enjoy the continuous, organic process of critical thinking and reasoning of my creative decisions while experimenting and working hands-on a project.”

IMG_2926On what influences her work:

“I am interested in exploring issues that are relevant today and that I feel is urgent to talk about through my work. Some of the artists that I am looking at are Kim Sooja, Adriana Varejão, Yinka Shonibare, David Hammons, Doris Salcedo, and Janine Antoni. Through two-dimensional and three-dimensional works, these artists challenge the idea of painting, work with patterns and fabric, activate domestic elements, wrap figures and allude to the body. Their works evoke an embodied experience, question the idea of authenticity, and speak about identity, ethnicity, and gender.”

On her experience at TAC:

“Having the opportunity to not only talk about my work, but also exchange ideas and learn different perspectives is vital to my studio practice. So I have been enjoying the openness of the Work in Progress studio so far. I have already had the pleasure of meeting visitors and hearing them talk about their own experiences and views on art and sociopolitical issues that are pertinent to my practice.”

IMG_2941On what the future holds:

“I look forward to continuing to learn immensely through making and sharing my work with others. I am excited to deeply explore everything that I can within the creative confines that I am currently working in as well as to expand my practice through experimenting with different approaches and starting new projects regarding other areas of research. I am currently looking forward to having a solo exhibition this July at Hillyer Art Space in Washington, DC.”


Photos by Sam Crow. 

You can visit Julia’s installation for Work in Progress from May 1-31, and learn more about her work and process during Artist Open Hours, on Saturdays, 2-5PM at our Manhattan studio. 

Join us for Collective Quilting: A Conversation on Gender and Ethnicity on Saturday, May 27, 2-5PM.

Join Julia in creating a large communal quilt at the Textile Art Center’s Manhattan studio, while discussing issues regarding gender and ethnicity. Julia will talk about her practice and how she creates patchworks to convey her experience of objectification. Participants are encouraged to use Julia’s fabrics or bring in remnant fabrics from their own lives, embroider images or text to share their thoughts or personal experiences of objectification, and attach them to a larger patchwork in support and solidarity with others.

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