Jiwon Ra

Materiality BFA
Video: Christine Jiwon Ra - Creative Director/Designer 
Along with many of its other, more obvious challenges, the year of 2020 pushed me to confront how deeply my complex global identity relies on the life of travel. Strict COVID-19 induced travel restrictions unexpectedly flipped my life as an international student this time last year— as I came to the panicked realisation that I was being held down in a place that was not my home . As governments across the world closed their borders to foreigners to protect “their own”, I also fled to my country of citizenship, South Korea in search of safety. At the same time, my family, who had been living in Tokyo, temporarily left the country just as Japan’s travel ban was announced. They were forced to leave everything, including our dog behind and are still unable to return to this day.
Nostalgia, a longing for each space I once called home, inspired me to draw the floor plans of every house or apartment I had lived in throughout my life, which is quite a lot. I moved around a lot and it intrigued me that I could no longer accurately remember the layout of the houses/apartments I lived in. Through comparing sketches with my friends and family members I found that everyone had a different memory of what the spaces looked like because we each remembered different things depending on what was important to us at the time, and what memorable event— good or bad occurred to each us individually. We decided to settle our differences by trying to actually reach out to the strangers that now live in these spaces. I wrote to them in Korean, Japanese, Chinese, English, and asked them to contact me and was able to get in touch with some people, including this lady who now lives in my old apartment in Hong Kong. She showed me the kitchen doors, the shape of which I had completely forgotten about.
This initial architectural memory exercise led me to dig deeper into my complicated, deeply relationship with relocation. While moving often symbolizes hope for a new beginning, relocating from country to country can be an intensely emotional experience— particularly when given no choice in the matter. As a South Korean that left Seoul to be raised in London, Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York, living in each city for no longer than 5 years at a time, I had grown used to the emotionally draining experience of incessantly packing and moving. While it initially seemed to be something of a compulsion to my parents, I later realized they did so in a continuous search for better opportunities for our collective future. Despite my eternal gratitude for the possibilities and benefits that opened up with every transition, the prospect of moving every five years always weighed heavily in my heart. The anxiety and apprehension about the unknown and the grief of leaving people and places behind deeply affected my self identity during my most formative years. I found myself attempting to resist change, frozen by the fear of leaving places that I had worked so hard to assimilate into.
Moving boxes hold a lot of symbolic meaning to me, so used this along with the iconography of cubes. I wanted to fully explore the idea of boxes in many different materials, including wire, ceramic and patchwork. I hoped these sculptures would help me move my memories, experiences and deep attachments tied to each place from the past into the present, wherever I go. This project essentially mediates on what immigrants sacrifice to achieve a home in the world, questions what it means to be part of a nation, and what can be done to escape its rigid, systematic, intimate bonds.


Christine Jiwon Ra is a multidisciplinary creative with a degree in Fashion Design and Fine Art from Parsons School of Design. As a citizen of South Korea, a permanent resident of Hong Kong, raised in England and Japan, and currently residing in New York, she takes an introspective and soulful approach to making cross-cultural references in her artwork.

Exploring the cultural heterogeneities she observes around her ever-changing environment, Ra has always been enamored by the sociological diversities that make up the densely populated urban spaces she has occupied. Her multimedia artwork, ranging from cartography, patchwork to ceramics are rooted in critical thinking and redefining the traditional codes of dress through challenging the infrastructures that are entrenched in waste and inefficiency. Through linking her innovative textile experimentations with her unique cultural perspective, she continues to push the boundary between fashion design and academic discourse.