Hanbok highlight

The 2023 hanbok events brought an international exhibition, runway show, and masterclass taught by hanbok masters

School of Art Design and Art History

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Participating students from the masterclass pose with Profs. Suntae Hwang and JungOk Um in Duke Hall.
Participating students from the masterclass pose with Professors Suntae Hwang and JungOk Um in Duke Hall.

Long considered wearable art, hanbok are traditional Korean clothes, specifically known with a chima (high-waisted skirt) and a jeogori (jacket) for female garments. When SADAH Director MiKyoung Lee started at James Madison University in 2022, she wanted to create an impactful cultural experience for students exploring hanbok. From the Wearables Runway show in Duke Hall to the Hanbok Saenghwal: Korean Fashion Then and Now exhibition at the Lisanby Museum, the inaugural hanbok events proved to do just that.

While visiting South Korea in 2022, the Director of the Madison Art Collection and Lisanby Museum, Ginny Soenksen, was impressed by the high-level design and aesthetics displayed at royal palaces and contemporary galleries. The opportunity then arose to hold the Lisanby Museum's first exhibition of Korean art. "I wanted our students and community to discover how vibrant, joyous, and technically incredible Korean art is," shares Soenksen.

The Madison Art Collection presented Hanbok Saenghwal: Korean Fashion Then and Now exhibition, on view from November 7, 2023, through March 8, 2024, at the Lisanby Museum in the Festival Conference and Student Center. Hanbok masters Professor Suntae Hwang and Professor JungOk Um show many different hanbok elements in the show, displaying the meaning of the hanbok as a garment.

A gallery view of the Lisanby Exhibition.
Gallery view of Hanbok Saenghwal: Korean Fashion Then and Now.

"They were incredibly generous with their knowledge, expertise, and art collection. Professor Hwang entrusted us with the display of her hwarot, a bridal overcoat made by her mother. It's clear that they see the art of hanbok as something to be shared," recalls Soenksen.

After installing the exhibition at the Lisanby Museum, Suntae Hwang and JungOk Um led a ten-day intensive hanbok masterclass with School of Art, Design, and Art History students. Director MiKyoung Lee has worked with Professor Hwang and Um for nearly a decade through the Hanbok Advancement Center under the Ministry of Korean Sports, Culture, and Tourism in South Korea. Professor Hwang and Um have taught hanbok masterclasses worldwide, and now also at JMU's School of Art, Design, and Art History.

"Just seeing Professor Suntae Hwang's and Professor JungOk Um's work is amazing, and to think that they took the time to work beside me and guide my hands and that I have an authentic hanbok that I made​ is unreal."

- Julie Eastwood
Senior, Studio Art
Director MiKyoung Lee assists a student during the masterclass.

Rob Mertens' ART 392 Garment Design and Anna Marie Smith's INDU 404 Industrial Design Advanced Studio participated in the masterclass, learning hanbok-making methods and producing a hanbok. Having prepared intently before the masterclass began, like Associate Professor Rob Mertens helping ready students by teaching sewing machine proficiency, students completed the main elements of the garments under the masters' instruction. "It was a joy to learn from and work with them, and it was so special to me to communicate without a shared language, especially about such a technical task," shares senior Julie Eastwood.

In addition to students, their professors also got to participate in the workshop. "The opportunity to work alongside my students for the hanbok workshop was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When you are learning alongside your students, you access a new layer of connecting. Peeling back this layer enhances vulnerability, which opens the door to more learning opportunities for everyone. Learning about other cultures is important as a human and educator," shares Visiting Assistant Professor of Industrial Design Anna Marie Smith.

Some students even completed their hanbok early and wore them to honor the exhibition opening for Hanbok Saenghwal: Korean Fashion Then and Now. The Center for Global Engagement hosted the exhibition reception on Friday, November 10, in collaboration with the Madison Art Collection and School of Art, Design, and Art History. Students, faculty, and staff gathered in Holland Yates Hall to celebrate the exhibition's milestones. "With a personal message from Hyundong Cho, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the United States, and the beautiful exhibit at the Lisanby Museum, this experience truly went beyond the classroom, highlighting the global importance of this work with my students and the student body at large," shares Anna Marie Smith.

Rob Mertens poses with one of the hanbok masters.
Professor Suntae Hwang and Associate Professor Rob Mertens.

The inaugural hanbok events culminated with the 2023 SADAH Wearables Runway Show, an epic showcase of student work, and a beautiful Korean dance and music performance. Students from SADAH's Fibers, Industrial Design, and Metals programs modeled their wearable artwork, including the hanbok students made in the 10-day intensive with hanbok masters Suntae Hwang and JungOk Um.

Rob Mertens, Anna Marie Smith, and Mark Rooker stand with students as they share their experiences in the masterclass.
Students share their experiences from the masterclass.

MiKyoung Lee, Rob Mertens, Anna Marie Smith, and Mark Rooker provided opening remarks before inviting students to share the process and reflections of the masterclass. Kate Kim then performed a traditional Korean Prayer dance, and vocalist and musician Jung-Hee Oh sang "I Don't Know What to Do" before playing the gayageum, a traditional Korean zither, as students modeled their artwork. Forty-one undergraduate students showed their wearable work in the show, representing the Art and Industrial Design majors.

The impact of the 2023 hanbok events remains on campus long after the events concluded. The exhibition Hanbok Saenghwal: Korean Fashion Then and Now will be on view at the Lisanby Museum until March 8, 2024. Select works from Suntae Hwang and JungOk Um, and some student works, are also on view in Duke Hall's Sawhill Gallery. Director MiKyoung Lee hopes to continue SADAH's partnerships in the coming years. “Many students have mentioned how much they learned not only from making hanbok but also about Korea's aesthetics, culture, and history. We all understand others better by experiencing other forms of art and culture,” shares Lee.

Hanbok Saenghwal: Korean Fashion Then and Now gallery view photo courtesy of the Madison Art Collection.

Photos from the Wearables Runway Show were taken by JMU Creative Media.

by Cameryn Norris ('22)

Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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