Tuesday, November 03, 2009

[Article] Ms Lee Hyo Jae - Blending Culture Into Everyday Life

Blending Culture Into Everyday Life
source: koreatimes

By Han Sang-hee
Staff Reporter

Traditional culture may start in museums and ancient palaces for some, but for Lee Hyo-jae, commonly known as Hyo-jae, it starts in the middle of the household.

``Tradition starts with `eui' (clothes), `sik' (food), `ju' (home). It is not something that can be defined by history books and statistics, but by living it,'' she told The Korea Times during an interview at her home in Seongbuk-dong, northern Seoul.

``It's something that can be appreciated in our everyday lives.''

Flipping through the culture section of newspapers, it is easy to find the 51-year-old on their pages. Most recently, she appeared at the press event for hallyu star's Bae Yong-joon's book last September.


Lee started her career early as a designer of Korean traditional costume, ``hanbok,'' thanks to her mother who ran a hanbok shop when she was young.

``Young people didn't want to do anything related to hanbok, even when I was young. We were all interested in the recent trends like jeans at the time,'' she said.

But as time went by, Lee was naturally drawn to the colorful and graceful clothing, along with the tradition and culture it brought to the makers and also the people who wear them.

This led her to become a ``sallimist,'' a word that roughly translates into a life stylist ― ``sallim'' literally means running a household.

``I see myself as a person from the Joseon Kingdom. I have always enjoyed making small and pretty things ― from cell phone charms to clothes and bags ― with traditional material like ropes and `bojagi' (Korean wrapping cloths) and I don't like change much.''

Lee does not have a television, nor does she use the Internet much. She only recently started using her cell phone, and this is one of the many things she is looking forward to stop.

``Every house wife in Korea does 'sallim.' The difference is that I tend to follow traditional ways and try to bring out our culture. It's nothing new, but just something many people find it hard to follow, or simply forget,'' Lee said.

This traditional sallim method of hers enabled her to write several books, including the recent ``Like Hyo-jae, with Your Hands,'' which offers her ideas in decorating, the Korean way.

``I have been living like this all my life, and it's interesting that people started to take interest in my work. The sallim people knew about was just the tip of the iceberg, and many people come to me asking `do you really live life that?' Of course, I do. Many housewives think doing sallim is grueling work, but for me, it's what I do for a living, literally,'' she said, smiling and taking a sip of warm tea.

Living the Tradition

The main priority for Lee these days is how to embrace tradition within our lives.

``Every culture is beautiful. The only true characteristic we Koreans have is that we are Asian with yellowy skin and that we use Korean. Other than that, we are living in a mix matched world of different cultures. It's impossible to demand the younger generation and the world to follow our tradition,'' she said.

Many Koreans have recognized the beauty of their tradition and have chosen to follow it by moving into hanok or wearing reformed hanbok. But for Lee, it was accepting the circumstances and making the best of it.

``Gyeongbok Palace is beautiful, but it is not used as it was in the past. It has become a relic. The guards rotating at the palace in traditional uniforms are carrying out a job, not tradition,'' Lee said.

Lee's efforts in blending Korean culture into the modern and busy lifestyles have attracted many, and her house has become a cultural spot for students and public figures visiting Korea.

``I noticed that foreigners are more interested in practical aspects in life and I agree this is important. Walking along the empty halls of ancient palaces can be educational, but experiencing the modernized version of traditional Korean life can also be effective,'' said the designer. She often holds bojagi classes for students to learn the versatile uses of the traditional cloth.

Walking around her house is a delightful surprise, with small windows decorated with ``hanji,'' Korean traditional paper for both style and as a blinder, while presents and utensils are wrapped with colorful bojagis.

``This house never met a Korean owner for the past 20 years. But look at it now. I have added traditional touches to it and changed the big, modern house into a Korean one. People need to realize that preserving tradition is not about escaping modernity, but bringing the two together harmoniously. You can live in a modern apartment and still live Korean.''

Future Plans

Lee has been busy with magazine shoots, interviews and also as goodwill ambassadors for various cultural events and festivals the past year. But the most important schedule on her list now is traveling around the world with her bojagi art.

``People love bojagi because of the color and versatility, and also because it is environment friendly,'' she said.

Lee already wowed more than 40,000 fans with her bojagi art performance during Bae's (known as yonsama by Japanese fans) event held at the Tokyo Dome, Japan, last September.

She is preparing for an exhibition with renowned Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake this month.

``I have worked with Volkswagen, cosmetics brand Clinique and famous cookware company Fissler, and now Issey Miyake! My dream is to travel around the world with my bojagi art,'' she said.

When asked if she didn't feel tired of showing everything through books and television shows, from her wardrobe, kitchen to even her bathroom, Lee smiled and shook her head.

``Actors show their talents through dramas and movies, but I show my whole household. I cannot talk about my work as a sallimist, hanbok designer and bojagi artist without talking about my own life and home. As I said, tradition and culture can be understood through all the aspects of living,'' she said.

While making cell phone charms with a colorful piece of thin rope, Lee added that we need to appreciate our everyday lives.

``I'm always satisfied. Some countries put meaning in people's everyday lifestyles, while some do on professions. Tradition and beauty should not be found only in museums and ancient palaces, but should be found within us in our lives,'' she said, quickly answering her phone. Her ringtone? The ``gugak,'' or Korean traditional music, version of the Beatles' ``Let it Be.''


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ms Lee Hyo Jae is a very gifted & creative artist. I saw her program on KBS World & was very impressed to see her home showcasing the creative flair in every nook & corner of Ms Lee Hyo Jae's house.

I am a Indian by birth but love everything Korean. I watch all the dramas thanks to the English subtitles.

Ms Jae is my inspiration to embibe art & culture into my life.