Embroiding the stories of Korean comfort women

Isabelle Kim with her hanbok.
Isabelle Kim with her hanbok.

Diploma of Design & Architecture students at UTS Insearch recently hosted a three-night exhibition showcasing major works for their final semester subject, Design Project. This exhibition was the opportunity for Design student Isabelle Kim to design a Hanbok for her final work. A Hanbok is a traditional Korean costume. She was inspired by the stories of Korean ‘comfort women’ in designing her work.

“I watched two Korean films called I Can Speak and Her Story which are all based on stories of comfort women, and I was really inspired by that. It particularly interested me since I am a Korean and this unresolved issue was something I had placed in the back of my mind. I felt the need to bear witness and echo the women’s powerless voices,” Isabelle said. 

“The Hanbok ensemble is a jacket and a dress made out of bridal tulle, a lightweight netting.”

Isabelle’s grandmother hand calligraphed the women’s experiences and emotions in Hanja (characters borrowed from Chinese integrated into Korean) such as pain, suffering, disdain, disgrace, humiliation, and dehumanisation. This was then used as a template to embroid some of the characters in her work along with modified Korean translations. 

“A lot of the comfort women have passed away so the transparency suggests their ghostly presence,” she said.

Isabelle said that her interest in fashion is an excellent outlet for social inquiry. 

“The process of fashion design is a lot like social inquiry. It’s about exploring mediums, testing ideas before materialising them and making a statement. Also, inquiring of your inspirations and going deeper into your inspirations, and having a trail of connections,” she said. 

Isabelle is looking forward to finding her own fashion voice when she starts at the University of Technology Sydney. She is going to pursue a Bachelor of Design in Fashion Design and would like to would like to start her own fashion label.

Isabelle Kim's hanbok