By Kathy Heinrichs Wiest
Recent visitors to George Washington University’s Textile Arts Museum were treated to a piece by Shin-hee Chin, associate professor in visual arts at Tabor College, the Mennonite Brethren college in Hillsboro, Kan. Chin’s invitation to participate in the museum’s “Stories of Migration” exhibit is just one of many ways her fabric art has been recognized, both in the U.S. and in her native Korea.
Why have you chosen fiber as your primary artistic medium?
Fabric and thread used to be women’s craft. Using a women’s medium as an art form valorizes women’s labor.
Where do you get the fabric for your work?
I recycle old clothes and cast-off material. When my children were young I would use the clothes they outgrew. Now my main resources are thrift stores and the MCC Relief Sale.
Your self-portrait of twisted fabric was featured on the cover of Surface Design magazine. How do you feel when your work is recognized like this in the art world?
I used to be reluctant to tell people I am an artist. I thought of myself as a laborer, a maker. But one day I realized that claiming to be an artist is like claiming salvation—we are saved by Christ, but then we work out our salvation. My goal as the artist is not to get the fame but to use art as a tool witnessing to God’s Word.
How does your womanhood impact your understanding of the artistic process?
Fiber art is tedious and time-consuming. Just like a pregnancy it takes time for a work to develop. It creates its own form and then I give birth. I have ties to my artwork and feel protective of it, but I also have to learn to let it go.
What is the meaning behind your diptych Mother Tongue and Foreign Language from the migration exhibit?
Mother tongue is an intricate aspect of the fabric of one’s being. I use it to emphasize the critical role of language in defining, dividing, and connecting people. Though language often serves as a tool for exclusion, I use these letters as a sign of an intercultural conversation, an on-going dialogue.
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