Korea, landscapes inspire textile artist

Francesca MannGeraldton Guardian

Geraldton is one of the last places you’d expect to find examples of a Korean patchwork tradition but local artist Marianne Penberthy specialises in the intricate pieces.

Known as Bojagi, the wrapping cloth is created by piecing together bits of fabric and is often used to cover food and ceremonial gifts.

Penberthy started working with textiles in the 1990s but it wasn’t until an exhibition at the Geraldton Regional Art Gallery in 2002 she discovered the Korean tradition.

Captivated by the contemporary look, Penberthy attended a Bojagi workshop in 2009 and began adding her own twist to the tradition, transferring the idea to the natural world.

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“I was looking for another way to reinterpret what I’d read about,” she said.

“I decided one day to sift flour. I knew it’d leave a mark just from cooking, so I took it out on one of our camping trips and started to create quilt-like installations.

“I think of sifting flour on the ground as a way to wrap that history and build my own relationship with the landscape but also to tread lightly on what was someone else’s precious land.

“It became more about our landscape and our history, rather than of a Korean tradition.”

Penberthy and her family moved from Queensland to Geraldton in the late 1970s.

While raising two children, Penberthy became interested in pottery, discovering the meditative benefits of making art.

Working primarily with natural fibres, the grandmother-of-three often finds inspiration in the natural environment.

“I get out to the landscape a lot,” she said.

“I’m always playing around, using sticks on the ground and what not.

“I love working in and with the landscape in a variety of ways as it changes all the time and it develops on its own accord.

“It also slows me down and I can use what it gives me, rather than me imposing on it.” As her style captured the attention of enthusiasts around the world, Penberthy was invited to present a solo exhibition of her work at the Korea Bojagi Forum in 2014 and 2016.

Since attending the 2014 forum, the 68-year-old has also been represented in two major exhibitions in the US, taking home the Fiberarts International prize for the creative use of materials this year.

As Penberthy’s artwork is often exhibited but not for sale, the artist was able to travel overseas thanks to grants from the WA Department of Culture and Arts, and the City of Greater Geraldton.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go to Korea without the funding,” she said. “It’s pretty hard to make a living as an artist, so it’s really important that there’s funding bodies, especially who can recognise the need in the regions.

“It’s huge, and it helps you to expand in your art practice, because you don’t have to constantly be dividing yourself between trying to make money and doing conceptual work.”

To see more of her work, visit mariannepenberthy.com.

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