Identity

A Woven Story

December 13, 2017
Jessica Kim

In weaving, there are two main components that create a fabric, namely, its warp and weft.  These elements, along with a myriad of other factors, contribute to the final design. The “warp” are bundles of string stretched taut and fixed on the loom that allow a weaver to lift yarns in any particular kind of grouping or sections, creating different “layers” in a fabric. The “weft” are the yarns, or other materials, that run perpendicular to the warp, and which are drawn, over and under, between the layers of warp. Together the warp and weft work to create texture, pattern, density, and other traits of the woven fabric.

‍Beginning woven sample made of neon lanyard, plastic wrap, yellow safety cord, and blue wool. Inspired by the transparency of fish tails in a fishing net.

The ideas of warp and weft relate to my life, as well.  In a more personal twist, my warp is my hometown, my siblings, my family structure, and my cultural identity.  My wefts are the relationships that have been built, are being built, and will be built, as well as the life experiences that encompass them.   

‍Image of the back of the loom. Shows the warp stretched to the front of the loom, displaying the colors. Made of linen that was dip-dyed.

The nature of my art is that it is reflective of some aspect myself at a very particular point in time.  The technique, material, or form the work I make, always subconsciously builds around my own perspective and experiences.  

"The technique, material, or form the work I make, always subconsciously builds around my own perspective and experiences."

As a result, like weaving, to fully understand the structure of my fabric, my own experience of growing up in the Japanese-American community in Los Angeles was pivotal in my development.  Growing up in this community has shaped my sense of self and how I relate to community, constructing my own internal “rules” of how I express my emotions, my words, and my art.

‍Detail of the woven on the loom. Using steel and copper wire, and alternating between wrapping and weaving the material the "net" is created.

My life “warp”- the basis of my identity- is probably grey, the concrete structures of Los Angeles, my home. It has bits of color in it- the navy blue of my elementary, middle, and high school in Culver City- even some green, with a year and a half of my high school years spent in Argentina. But the overall impression is grey, a city person through and through.

I grew up in a largely Japanese-American Methodist church and played basketball in a Japanese American basketball league for most of my elementary school years. I went to a dual immersion bilingual elementary school where much of the curriculum was taught in Japanese, and where we celebrated Japanese holidays like Sports Day and New Years. I am in shin-Sansei on both sides, my paternal and maternal grandparents having immigrated to the United States after WWII. I am also half-Korean and half-Japanese, and even though I grew up surrounded by Japanese culture, this too, defines my cultural identity and experience.

 The front view of the "net" on the loom. The warp is fed from the back, and threaded to the front to create the yarns pulled vertically. Shows the "net" being woven.

When I first started going to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), I did not think of how exactly my “Japanese” side would shape what I would make. The Textiles Department at RISD highly stresses concept- everything we make has to have a particular source of inspiration, the identifiable origin of the designs and textiles we create. To this effect, the produced fabric are not merely just a textile- they are extensions of research and knowledge, of ourselves. Therefore, what I could not understand previously was that the textiles I would make would reflect me--my ideas of what constitutes “good” or “bad,” the colors I choose, the compositions I create, how I see the role of a textile in space or on a body.  And all these things are informed and influenced by my experiences of growing up in the Nikkei community.

"Therefore, what I could not understand previously was that the textiles I would make would reflect me--my ideas of what constitutes “good” or “bad,” the colors I choose, the compositions I create, how I see the role of a textile in space or on a body.  And all these things are informed and influenced by my experiences of growing up in the Nikkei community."
‍Woven felted sample of black wool, soft pink yarn, and silver ribbon. Based off fish caught in a net.

When I was younger, my mother would regularly take me to visit my Japanese grandparents in San Diego. There, we would eat good Japanese food, go hiking, and spend time with one another. It was on one of those visits my grandmother taught me to knit and crochet. My love of textiles started with these lessons. Every day after school, I would rush home to knit, sew, or crochet, inspired by all the possibilities of what I could make. When I moved to Cordoba, Argentina with my family during my sophomore year of high school, textiles became more connected to my artistic expression.

Sample made of blue wool felted together with yellow safety cord, neon lanyard, and light blue cotton. Made to imitate fish swimming underwater.

This particular “weft” is memorable because this was a point where my passion for textiles and my experience in the Japanese-American community intersected. It was not until I was in another country, immersed in another culture was I aware of how I was tied to the Nikkei community and what that meant for me, in terms of my self-perception and how I perceived the world. It was also around that time when I began to make braided rugs from old clothes. It was something that seemed logical at the time. We had just moved, we didn’t speak any Spanish, we couldn’t find a lot of the furniture or interior decorations that we were accustomed to in the United States. And, we were wearing out the few clothes that we had brought with us and had no idea what to do with them.  

‍The final version of this concept I wove this using dyed linen, wire, and cotton. Created so that it imitates the movement of "trapped" fish in a net, this piece is woven vertically and has many different versions as it can be hung in a myriad of different ways.

In high school, I had taken part in an art program where we had to cut up old T-shirts into long strips to make rope. In Argentina, I began to cut up my family’s clothes into strips, braiding them, then hand sewed them into huge circles. It was a period of my life where everything seemed to run together into blobs, every action leading to more confusion. Stepping forward into the unknown, I subconsciously began to make circles.

I spent my first year of college in Los Angeles, and became very involved in the API community at my school. I joined NSU (Nikkei Student Union) and from there, my interest in Asian-American activism began. My experiences as a child in the Nikkei community were being drawn upon, and becoming involved in the community as a young adult opened up my perception of my own role in the community.

Upon transferring to RISD, I drew upon my experience and involvement within the API community and noticed how it influenced my own approach to design. What I have discovered is that much of my artwork is centered around modules – that is, the production of smaller similar parts that are put together to create a whole. Each piece is different each time it is presented, just as how the way in which modules are put together and connected are different. This idea is central to my own experiences involving community in different places, in Argentina and within the API groups.

Wire was wrapped around certain strands to keep the form of the "net".

This past summer, I participated in the Kizuna Nikkei Community Internship, which further fueled this sense of community and identity. I feel like I now know what motivates me creatively. My passion is creating and making things. According to an NCI (Nikkei Community Internship) leadership style test I am analytical ­– I love dissecting and understanding how various components are pieced together. However, what fuels my drive to make things is community and my interactions with other people. The subjects that inspire me, the format, the style – all these things emerge from my life experiences.

"However, what fuels my drive to make things is community and my interactions with other people. The subjects that inspire me, the format, the style – all these things emerge from my life experiences."
‍The piece hanging straight down.

My warp – my cultural upbringing and identity – always influences what I make. I am a product of my community, and my experience growing up in the Nikkei community impacts the artwork I create. My warp influences how I perceive the wefts in my life, and the weft creates shapes how I see my warp.

In the picture shown, my piece was inspired by fishing nets and fish; how swarms of many fish clump together in one huge mass. I wanted to capture the movement of the struggling fish in the movement of the net itself, so I wove wire into the warp so that it would be able to hold the structure. The material is a definite part of the piece. My life experiences and my cultural identity are the same – they both define and hold up each other.

Jessica Kim

Jessica Kim is a student at the Rhode Island School of Design studying Textiles. Born in Los Angeles, California she was part of the Nikkei Community Internship in the summer of 2017. She is half-Korean and half-Japanese.