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Interview with Fiber Artist Jinhee Kwak

Jinhee Kwak by Ivanesa Luna

Jinhee Kwak is  a multimedia artist from Hawaii. We chat to them about their most  practiced art form,  needle felting, and how they expresses her sexuality and queer identity via their work. 

How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art? 

I know this sounds really cliche, but I have such a difficult time talking about my own art. The contemporary art world perplexes me, and I have a hard time finding a nook for where I fit in the contemporary art world. I guess my work fits within the groups of feminist fiber art and DIY art groups. There are so many different facets and subgroups to contemporary art, and I have a difficult time placing my work in any.

Tell me about your evolution as an artist? How did you get into fiber art as a medium?

 I always drew a lot growing up. I was a pretty nervous and hyper kid. I always had to have my hands occupied. Whether it be that I needed to have a pen in my hand and paper underneath it to calm down, or I was folding paper airplanes and origami cranes. I always like having something to do. As far as landing on fiber art as my main medium... it kind of was assigned to me. It was in my last year at art school, and I saved all of the classes that either I was most interested in or I found the most challenging for my last year. I took a class under an instructor, who's work and practice I really admire (shoutout to Amy Wilson). At the time I was working as a dominatrix and i found that expressing my experience through this class and medium was perfect. It really helped me deal with the stressors of that job. I didn't really grasp sculpting as well as I was hoping but needle felting is repetitive in hand motion, and it really helped to hone in on my ability to replicate an object using soft material. 

Why do you think it’s important to explore sexuality through your work?

 I think that I am constantly trying to understand my own sexuality and my own queer identity. On a good day I can feel myself evolving, and on a bad day I digress. And I carry that with me everywhere and in a lot of things I do in my life including my artistic practice. I identify as a non-binary pansexual person. I think every artist puts themselves into their work even if it's intentional or not. Therefore, sexuality is intrinsically intertwined into my work. 

How do you feel about the representation of women, especially queer women and women of color in the media and in art?

 Oof, this question had me take a big sigh. Which I guess is indicative of that I generally don't feel good things about it... haha.
 I think that since queer POC women are marginalized by mainstream hierarchal groups, that representation of POC queers in general are scarce. Therefore, when a POC person is reflected in mainstream media, POC queer people are often pigeonholed into replicating or fulfilling roles that are minimally reflected in media.
Social media has given the ability for queer women of color to express themselves and be visible which I genuinely appreciate. It has given them the ability to give themselves agency over how they are presented and has given us visual autonomy. 


How do you think creating art, especially with an erotic or sexual content, can help with the current social and political climate?

Definitely! I think that erotic art is rooted in radical ideals. It's incredibly important to be radical right now considering our current political climate.
Art (whether it be visual or auditory), is one of the few platforms that we have to express our disapproval towards this oppressive regime. I think it offers a lot of healing in times like this.


If you had to give your younger self a piece of sexual advice for the future, what would it be?

 Well I went to a catholic school and my understanding of sex was to have it only for the intention of having children. And I grew up in a household where it wasn't really talked about, so I had to come to my own understanding of sex positivity. 
So I would say to myself... 
Don't be so afraid of sex! Be safe and have fun! But don't use sex as a mechanism for people to like you. 
Check out Jinhee's work in her Instagram @jinh_eek

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