With the continuing increase of anti-Asian violence and scapegoating during the pandemic, some Korean Americans have also embraced hanbok as a symbol of cultural pride in the face of xenophobic assaults. At her recent solo exhibition, “Late Bloomer,” at Hashimoto Contemporary gallery in Los Angeles, Seonna Hong, 48, displayed two handmade hanboks, “a homage to my heritage,” she said. Made from recycled clothes, curtains, canvas, denim jeans and a vintage Butterick sewing pattern she found on Etsy, “it’s a reflection of who I am, in that I’m a patchwork of different cultures and generational experiences.”
While researching the pioneering Fluxus artist Nam June Paik in Miami, where he died in 2006, Ms. Choi, the art consultant, was moved when she came across his final work, “Ommah” (Mother), in which a traditional overcoat, called a durumagi, envelopes a looping video of three young Korean American girls who play games while dressed in hanboks.
“It just moved me to know that was his final work,” Ms. Choi said. “For me, it symbolizes the lineage of that sadness that is in every Korean because of our very recent, traumatic history that isn’t spoken about much, especially in the diaspora, where it’s regarded as: ‘That was then, that was there.’”
What struck her about watching “Pachinko,” she added, is “how close that past really is, and how much change there has been in such a short period of time: technologically, culturally, geopolitically.” It is also a stark reminder, she said, of what her own grandmothers wore in their youth, just two generations ago.
“With the surge of global interest in Korean culture, hanbok may just be a trend for a lot of people, but for me, that validation is not necessary to who I am,” Ms. Choi said. “This is just who we are — and it’s beautiful to embrace.”