Embroidery in Translation: Emperor’s Robe to G-Star Jumpsuit
I decided to translate embroidery on an emperor’s robe into a contemporary designer G-Star Jumpsuit in order to bring up questions on fashion. Embroidery is the practice of ornament: to decorate one’s clothing. And hand embroidery has functioned as a signifier of wealth and status of someone since one is so important or wealthy that they can literally display hours of hand labor. In response to these ideas, I decided to create a fetished garment with hours of my meticulous hand labor.
Even though I spent over 200 hours hand embroidering (with the help of my friend, Verónica Casado Hernández) this designer jumpsuit, the embroidery (from once the most elegant and revered type of garment – an emperor’s robe) looks common. The jumpsuit still looks like a garment one would purchase in a store. In fashion, such potent cultural symbols are appropriated and reused where they merely become a decorative fetish. In addition, ornamentation has become common through various processes of dying, silk-screening, and machine embroidery that there is no longer a value in hand embroidery. In this piece, I am questioning what is the value of my hand labor?
Photos by Leonard Suryajaya
Embroidery in Translation: A Collaboration with Indigenous Chapanecan Artists to Reinterpret Traditional Korean Textiles
I was asked by the Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum in Seoul, South Korea to create a piece that responded to their collection of mainly Chinese and Korean textiles. During my residency with Trenza Negra and through the Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya, I extended the invitation to seven indigenous women from five different regions in Chiapas, Mexico. The women each chose a piece to respond. The terms were loose in that they could replicate an entire piece, or take parts and elements and incorporate them into their iconic style.
The artists were given four weeks to complete the works. And during that time I gave a free public embroidery workshop of traditional Korean motifs and embroidery techniques, of which some of the commissioned artists were able to attend. And I visited the home of four of the artists where she shared work, meals, and further exchanged techniques and skills.
These artists were commissioned to give time to use iconographies of the globe and incorporate new techniques, if they wanted to. For example, Juana Victoria Hernandez Gomez from San Juan Cancuc told me that she had never embroidered something pictorial before and took this as an opportunity to try something radically different. All but one artist said they plan to incorporate new techniques or imagery that they created in this project for future works. Martha Ruiz Lopez from San Juan Chamula was so proud of her work and wants to create placemats with this new remixed imagery. And the Gomez K’ulub sisters have already created dresses and huipils that have their version of the ceremonial Chinese collars incorporated into them.
In this project, my first point of interest was to explore embroidery as literacy – to see how traditional embroidery from one part of the world gets translated into another. What is lost? What is gained? What is shared? And what can be exchanged?
Secondly, I am interested in how this project can create a conversation between two places where traditional embroidery is seen and practiced so differently. For instance, not many people practice traditional embroidery anymore in South Korea because it is no longer economically sustainable and hasn’t been for a very long time. Much of what is marketed as traditional in the marketplaces is actually manufactured or handmade in China. While in Chiapas (not to say some traditional goods in the marketplace aren’t actually made in Guatemala) overall the traditional crafts are current, and vibrant.
I’m interested in seeing the long-term impact of this exchange. Will and how will these Korean motifs and techniques be incorporated into traditional Chapanecan embroidery? How might they impact the marketplace? And ultimately how might locals and tourists buying these goods respond to these remixed creations? Will they even notice? How might this impact how others approach the concept of what is traditional?