Posted by Amanda Kesner, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Pojagi is a Korean ceremonial wrapping cloth used to cover gifts, protect sacred writings, hold food or carry objects in everyday life. The primary purpose of a pojagi is to respect an object and present the recipient with blessing and good will. Pojagi is still used in contemporary Korean society but it became a cultural icon in pre-modern Korea during the Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1910).
This multi-colored patchwork pojagi was stitched in silk around 1900. It is typical of its time period, reflecting Korean aesthetics of simplicity and asymmetrical design. Each square is a different color; some of them are separated by strong diagonals that transform the square into a new shape. There is an incredible rhythm that aids the eye moving through the piece. The squares are larger toward the perimeter and get smaller and more detailed as they reach the middle, causing a radiating effect. In the center is a crimson ribbon, akin to awareness ribbon that many society’s use to represent a political issue, illness, or death. Therefore, even beyond the extensive stitching and sewing throughout the textile, this ribbon serves to further exemplify the concept of memory. Memory of the person who wrapped the piece, the occasion for the gift and for future blessings in creating new memories.
Gregory Johnson writes, “Many surviving patchwork wrapping cloths from the Chosŏn period have never been used, attesting to their preservation as reminders of the affection and blessing of their makers.” Wrapping paper in Western culture has an extremely different meaning. It is usually a decorative surface to conceal the gift prior to the person opening it. The paper is torn off and discarded and creates a massive amount of waste. Pojagi alters the act of gift-giving into the act of remembrance. It underscores the notion that the process of wrapping is more important than the gift itself.