"Jin Hee Kwak is a fiber artist who just debuted her first solo show "Vaginal Vortex" at Bushwick's Silent Barn. Her work is erotic, raw, and stimulating. I met Jin shortly after moving to New York and loved her quirky traits. Her pieces of art are so authentic to who she is. I love that. You can see her collection at Silent Barn until May 28th."
1. Define Mother.
As a baby, a mother is expected to give milk- to cradle, to rock, to hold. Mothers have to give their body physically to a baby. Some mothers can’t provide that, because maybe they are working a lot or physically can’t be around for whatever reason, but they are there to set an example and to make “good” decisions. I mean, my mom, let me just talk about my mom- she's a bad ass bitch. She’s really tiny, but she packs a lot of punch. She taught me that in order to survive, I have to have a strong will to live in order to achieve certain goals. She also told me to remain ambiguous at times and always keep people guessing if needed. She said “never give away too much of yourself, but be vulnerable and compassionate when necessary.” She is also an artist. She grew up in a very strict environment, as her father was a general during the Korean War. She moved to America with the dream of being an artist and art teacher and then she got pregnant and had my siblings and me. She gave up that dream, but I think she would be proud of me for making art…. Even though I’m making pierced vaginas. Regardless, being a mother, or a woman in general, you have to remember how much power you actually hold. No matter who tells you that you don’t, whether on the street or on the internet, someone is always going to have something to say. Women have to teach each other to use that as motivation to keep going.
2. Who has played nurturing roles in your life? Where do you grab inspiration? Mentors? Caretakers?
Mmmm, teachers, friends, lovers… and sometimes people I don’t even know on a personal level, complete strangers. I spend a lot of time alone or with other artists, so I draw inspiration through a connection or spark of some sort. I tend to look towards other people and think to myself “Wow, I can do that.” And then my self doubt kicks in and says, “well I’m not them… so no, I can’t.” I’m also inspired by my own imagination, but that is influenced by things that are happening around me. Right now I’ve been drawing a lot of inspiration from flowers as it’s spring. I draw inspiration from animals, space, natural wonders, cultural adaptations... and DRAG QUEENS, for sure. When I was younger, I stole my older sister’s I.D. to watch men imitate women at night clubs because I thought it was so fascinating that men could be more feminine than me. As I got older, I started realizing I’m a woman too. Like- “WAIT, HEY! I can do that.” Oddly enough, I draw a lot of motherly inspiration from men. As much as I grew up hating straight men because historically, they hold so many positions of power that are soul killing…. I found myself emulating them so I could gain respect from them, which may have created this ambiguous queerdo whom I identify as today.
3.Do you feel womanly now?
Right now, because of what I am wearing, not really. (laughs) I don’t know if I ever really do. That’s why I make a lot of art about it. I make all this stuff that I feel like I want to see and have others identify with and say “Hey! That’s a little bit of me too.” Especially, young women, or people who look up to women. Trans people tend to approach me and talk about their desire to have a vagina, and I think that that is awesome. It reminds me the power women hold. I make a bunch of art for women, and then I look in the mirror and I think- “Oh fuck, I forgot! I’m a woman too.”
4.Tell me about your journey as a fiber artist. How did you take something like wool and turn it into kink gear and vaginas?
I made the kink series because I was working as a dominatrix, but then I quit because I fell in love and had my hand in other things. I found it was too hard to date and be a dom. My heart couldn’t handle it. I was already working two other jobs and doing a lot, so I made the decision to leave. When you are in art school you are just expected to make so much work under a time limit, and you are pressured to be creative, be original, do stuff that no one has seen before, so I was like “fuck it, fine. I’m gonna make shit that I’ve seen but not done in this medium.” When I started needle felting, I realized, not only can I make stuff pretty fast, but I loved the medium. It was soft and delicate. I liked the idea of taking something really soft and making it really hard- transforming an object into something it wasn’t meant to be. The process is very erotic too. The needle penetrates the soft material until it becomes erect to form a familiar shape… doesn’t that sound hot?
5. Why the vaginas?
Someone recommended I make genitalia. So I made them, got a good response, and then I had someone contact me about making them a personal vagina. Also, people were finding stories within the vaginas, and I thought that was really cool. I started then making work for others, and the vaginas started acting as a bridge between me and these people I didn’t know. I acted as a therapist almost. One guy opened up to me about a person whom he lost and he shared a very personal memory with me. It was a very intimate conversation, and I felt very honored to have this person feel comfortable enough to share it with me for us to collaborate and make that piece together.
6. Do you think food plays the same role as your pieces of work? As your vaginas?
Well food provides sustenance, pleasure, and joy... I hope my vaginas do too. Food also connects people together as art does. People connect through so many different ways- through food, through art…. The internet, conversation, sex. But food, now food is a whole other kind of connection… Food is amazing and delicious... I don't know if my vaginas are on the same level yet... they aren’t quite delicious like food is.
7. How do you think food acts as a mother or a nurturer?
Nurturers feed, protect, and support something or someone... food provides protection and is essentially the building blocks that support us as human beings to survive and exist. Food is the ultimate nurturer! Growing up, my mother would always ask me upon coming home, “Have you eaten yet?” And I may have gotten annoyed because I knew that she would criticize me later for eating too much, but it’s really just a way of saying “Hey, are you okay?” To be straight forward... without food, you’ll die. When someone cooks for you, in the simplest way, it’s them showing that they don’t want you to die. That means a lot… that’s nurturing beyond belief.
8. Tell TAK about the last time you felt mothered by food.
Ever have a mother shush you and tell you to be quiet when you were being out of line? Well food has been that actual stuffer to shut me up just like a mama would. The other day, I met up with a friend and we were talking about misunderstandings we had had in the past. There was so much I wanted to say, I started crying. I kept thinking to myself “Just eat the food in front of you. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Just listen to what this person has to say, and enjoy this meal.” Sometimes, food acts as a silencer. Sometimes you just have to shut up and accept the gift that has been given to you.
It gave me the opportunity to listen.