Alumni Story: Minhee Kim, MA Textiles, 2018
A work from MA Textiles alumna Minhee Kim’s graduate project has been shortlisted for the Loewe Craft Prize 2019. Her work was selected as one of 29 finalists from close to over 2,500 submissions by artisans from 100 countries. Before she came to the RCA, Minhee was working as an artist and a visiting lecturer in Korea after completing a BA and MA in fibre art at Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea. She explained how studying Textiles at the RCA helped her to develop her own distinctive and evocative visual language in order to address the historic and political issue of Korean ‘Comfort Women’.
Can you tell us about the work that was nominated for the Loewe Craft Prize?
The work shortlisted for the Loewe Craft Prize was my graduate project, which is about Korean ‘Comfort Women’. These women were sexual slaves for Japanese military soldiers during the Second World War. It is a historical and political issue, but I wanted to focus just on the stories of the women that had suffered.
When I came to the RCA I spoke about the ‘Comfort Women’ with people from different backgrounds and realised that their story is not that well known in the west. I think art has a role to change people’s minds and make a change in society, so I decided to convey this issue in my work and share it more broadly.
The work is based on traditional Korean funeral clothes. There is a story that explains if children make their parents’ funeral clothes before they die, their parents will live longer. Inspired by that story, I started to make funeral garments as a prayer for the longevity of the 28 Korean survivors alive at the time of construction. It is part of an ongoing series to commemorate all the living victims.
At first, I really struggled with choosing the right material to convey their stories and capture their memories of suffering. Finally, I discovered mono-filament, which is really fine and looks very similar to human hair which felt appropriate to convey the women’s lives, stories and memories.
The structure and texture of the fabric is also very vulnerable. I made it fragile because these women’s lives were traumatic and fragile. Even the country didn’t protect them or their rights. So I wanted to tell their situations, lives and memories through a very fragile material. The garments can’t be worn, but are made to be installed in the gallery context. Hanging from the ceiling they gently move and can create really evocative shadows.
How did studying at the RCA help to develop your work?
At the beginning of the Programme we were set a colour project and a technical project. At first, because I had already studied an MA, I felt they were quite basic projects, but actually they were really helpful. They enabled me to figure out my real visual language, using colour and finding ways to handle materials.
Quite early on I decided to focus on telling the story of the comfort women. Then spent time exploring the proper materials and colours to express the issue in the right way. My whole journey was about figuring out my visual language to convey this issue.
When I was in Korea, even though I majored in fibre arts, I was using really heavy materials to create big sculptures. When I came to the RCA, I started to work with fragile and light materials, like mono-filament and other yarns and threads. I used these to make light-weight sculptures with a vague form, which was totally the opposite of what I was doing before. It was at this time that I discovered the strength that can come from the delicacy and fragility of materials.
Why did you decide to study at the RCA?
Coming to the RCA was one of my dreams! When I was at university I met a tutor who was an RCA graduate. She talked about RCA life and it sounded amazing. She said there were so many good tutors and technicians, as well as an amazing peer group, and recommended I come here to develop my work.
What was the most rewarding thing about your time at the College?
There were so many things! First of all, I met some really amazing tutors. There are so many opportunities to try things at the RCA, but my tutors were good at keeping me focused on my path. I was often worried and insecure about my work, but all the time my tutors challenged me and pushed me to keep going. I really appreciated that.
I also really enjoyed talks from visiting artists and designers, which gave us the opportunity to directly ask them questions. The crits – when different specialisms came together and exchanged ideas, feedback, and different ways of thinking – were also really helpful. The studio culture in general was very productive. If stuck with an idea you could talk freely with people, and share ideas and feedback to find solutions. It was a really free and open-minded environment.
What have you been up to since graduating and what’s next?
After graduating I was included in a group exhibition with some other Textiles students as part of London Design Festival, and I took part in an art fair with some MA Painting students. My plans now are to keep going with this project. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to show the work in Japan as part of the Loewe Craft Prize and excited to see it in a different cultural context.
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