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Seonyoung Lee: Weird Skin Project


Seonyoung LEE is a weaver, designer and installation artist based in Chicago, IL. She studied Industrial design at Hongik University in Korea with a BFA degree. After graduating from her undergraduate program, she worked as a display designer at a fashion company at its various locations such as Shanghai, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Seoul. Recently, she received her master’s degree for studying fashion and fiber within the Fashion, Body and Garment at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She engages with ideas about vul- nerability regarding her personal discomfort with skin type. Currently, she is pursuing time-based installa- tion work with weaving.

Weird skin project _immersive, 124 x 106 x 48 in, various yarn, linen fabric, ribbon, rope, 2023, Seonyoung Lee

What made you choose art as a career?

Embracing art as a career was an organic progression deeply rooted in eagerness in my mind toward creation. I studied Design for my undergraduate, I found my creative voice while working as a display designer across the fashion industry. However, working at the company had lots of limitations to express and convey my own thoughts. The desire to delve into creating and convey my ideas led me to pursue a master’s degree. Art became my chosen path to navigate the intersection of expressing myself and conveying ideas, especially exploring complexities of vulnerability as an Asian woman artist.

Weird skin project _immersive, 124 x 106 x 48 in, various yarn, linen fabric, ribbon, rope, 2023, Seonyoung Lee

How do you weave elements of your background into your artwork?

Honestly, weaving and sewing are traditional crafts, often treated as “woman’s work”. I aim to explore the great potential of these skills, not only as crafts but also as a distinct genre of art. In my childhood in Korea, there were two mandatory subjects —“household science” and “technical science”. Every girl was required to take “household science”, which focused on domestic skills such as sewing, cooking and cleaning. Actually sewing was my least favorite part, the memories associated with it motivated me to revisit the craft. In a sense, I view my engagement with this once-hated task as a form of overcoming stereotypes related to women’s work. I am eager to express a diverse range of ideas through these traditional skills, pushing beyond the confines of traditional gender roles. 

Weird skin project _void,  from the front piece: 98 x 25 in, 78 x 24 in, 118 x 24 in, 86 x20 in,

various yarn, linen fabric, ribbon, 2023, Seonyoung Lee

Are there any specific memories or experiences that have left a deep impression on your work?

When I was a child, my friends often teased me about my skin color, an aspect that has left a lasting impact on my self-perception. Growing up in Korea, a country with a predominantly homogenous population,  I experienced a lack of diversity in my surroundings. My skin color, slightly darker than the average Korean. In many Asian societies, including Korea, pale and fair skin is often idealized, and my tanned complexion stood out. This childhood experience of being singled out for my skin tone persisted into adulthood, impacting my self-esteem. This experience has motivated me to challenge and overcome societal expectations and my personal complexion, leading to the exploration of the “skin” in my artistic journey. Currently, I am working on my “Weird Skin Project”, a reflection on this journey of self-discovery and defiance against external judgments.

Weird skin project _scar III, 110 x 84 in, various yarn, linen fabric, ribbon, rope, 2023, Seonyoung Lee

Can you share a particular piece of art or project that you're especially proud of, and the story behind it?

Recently, I have been immersed in my “Weird Skin Project”, especially the piece named “Weird Skin Project _transform”. This project comes from my own vulnerability toward skin discomfort. Diverse fluffy, bumpy textures symbolize an array of scars and wounds. Flat wall pieces undergo metamorphosis, turning into a garment-like piece. This transformation expresses not only my complicated emotions toward my vulnerability, but also a visual metaphor of overcoming negative emotions.

Weird skin project _transform, wall piece: 45 x 36 in, body piece: 16 x 56 in, various yarn, raffia, ribbon, rope, 2022, Seonyoung Lee

Does art help you in other areas of your life?

Creating my artwork is not only a source of joy but also a means of self-overcoming. As someone who is highly emotional, particularly in dealing with negative emotions, my artistic process serves as a powerful solution to it. When delving into the themes of my creations, I confront my own vulnerabilities, forcing me to overcome them. This practice cultivates emotional resilience, empowering me to handle a range of feelings and effectively communicate my thoughts and experiences to others. I believe that art has the power to evoke change, support people and create connections within people. Through my art, I aim to explore and engage in a dialogue with myself, seeking to share these ideas with others. This practice makes me very strong to handle emotions and I would like to convey my thoughts and experience to others through art.

Weird skin project _transform, wall piece: 45 x 36 in, body piece: 16 x 56 in, various yarn, raffia, ribbon, rope, 2022, Seonyoung Lee

text & photo courtesy of Seonyoung LEE


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