In South Korea, scholarship on historical dress at universities has been “very much declining for the past 30 years,” said Minjee Kim, an independent scholar of Korean textiles and fashion in the San Francisco Bay Area. In “some aspects,” Dr. Kim said, “Arumjigi is filling in that gap,” but she said that its focus had largely remained technical and that it should take a more interdisciplinary approach.
“Blurring Boundaries” contains hints of the many threats that Korea’s heritage has endured. Black-and-white footage that Robert Garfias, an ethnomusicologist, shot in the 1960s shows a surviving court dancer of the Joseon dynasty, whose 500-year reign ended in 1910 with Japan’s colonization, which itself ended because of World War II. In a nearby room, there is a slide show of photographs by Han Youngsoo of daily life in Seoul beginning in the 1950s, as it recovered from the Korean War.
Watching those slides, Christina Kim explained that the way Korean women lift and hold part of their skirt as they walk quickly led her to make her wraparound “Eungie” skirt. It is named for Eungie Joo, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s curator and head of contemporary art, who had a Miao skirt from China with a shape that led her to its design. Ms. Kim has built a column out of a number of them in Arumjigi’s stairwell, a wild spiral of textures and colors that she likened to the minaret at the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq.
Ms. Joo was a Dosa client before meeting Ms. Kim, and in an interview said the designer was “a colleague, older sister, creative thinker and this great role model.” When she organized a major public art show in Anyang, south of Seoul, in 2016, she tapped Ms. Kim to create an installation of pillows, as well as vests for docents. She was “ecologically thinking about scraps and recycling since before anybody else,” Ms. Joo said.
After growing up in Seoul when she did, Ms. Kim said she had a sense of being part of “a culture that was born out of not having much.” She lived in a hanok with an earthen floor and got water with her grandmother in a nearby park.
“What I learned was how to do things with leftovers, right? In every form of life,” she said. “And then traveling around the world, that’s what I love more than anything else, is really looking at resources, and how do you maximize the resources?”