Hiejin Yoo felt compelled to wear a bra every day when she grew up in the relatively conservative culture of South Korea.
Now living in the United States, she notices women feel more freedom to decide whether they wear a bra or not.
The conversation surrounding bras played a part in inspiring the UCLA alumna to paint a piece entitled “The First Thing I Do When I Get Home.” It is currently being displayed in the “Seed” exhibition in New York’s Paul Kasmin Gallery. The gallery, which runs until Aug. 10, features the artwork of Yoo along with pieces by 28 other female artists, each displaying varied themes of womanhood and nature. For “The First Thing I Do When I Get Home,” Yoo said she painted a personal feeling that she has experienced throughout her lifetime – the comfort of taking off her bra after a long day.
“Because I’m from South Korea, we need to wear a bra all the time, whereas in America, I see a lot of women who, if they don’t want to wear a bra, they don’t have to,” she said. “The first thing I want to do when I get home every day is take off the bra.”
Yoo used a combination of Flashe, a vinyl-based paint, and oil paint to create the image of a bra draped across a branch, while a woman standing behind the objects is portrayed from the neck down. The intimate nature of her work is a quality Anabel Juarez said she admires in Yoo’s art. Juarez, a UCLA alumna who met Yoo in college, said the personal scenes of Yoo’s own life placed in the art are relatable because the figures’ faces are often cropped, aiding viewers in visualizing themselves in the scene instead of a predetermined face.
“A lot of the paintings are about her own life, and as a female, it’s relevant to tell your story and share with other people and make it be relevant,” Juarez said. “It encourages other people to speak up and tell their story.”
The blue color of the body shown in the painting symbolizes the feelings she captured in her diary entry that inspired the piece.” After a stressful day, she said arriving home is a time to relax, or cool down. Removing her bra is the first step to her relaxation, thus her body is represented with a cool, calming blue.
The branch incorporated in Yoo’s art adds another layer of meaning to the piece. She said branches are part of nature, but wearing a bra is not part of the natural, comfortable human form. She said the blue figure is important to the piece, but the bra and branch hold similar value in her art.
“It’s all about association of nature with sexuality and… I think taking off the bra, I’m going into nature,” Yoo said. “For me, it’s my motivation for the painting.”
Yvonne Force, the curator of the exhibition, said she had not heard of Yoo’s work before searching for pieces to include in “Seed,” but when Half Gallery showed Force her art, she felt that each of Yoo’s pieces was deeply personal. She said the colors used in the piece reflect the artist’s mood, and the branch creates the feeling of an outdoor, natural space even though the scene occurs domestically.
“Her work is not only incredibly sensitive, but it’s also highly minimal. The paint is applied very delicately and very thin,” Force said. “For me, the process of her art-making is so sensitive, and I believe the issues she is examining have that same sensitivity.”
Force said she became interested in the rituals of creating art while gathering pieces like Yoo’s for the “Seed” exhibition. In regards to “The First Thing I Do When I Get Home,” she said the title and depiction of the ritual removal of a bra each day worked in conjunction with the process of making a painting – from mixing colors to stretching a canvas – to explore the ritualistic nature of being an artist.
“You have the branch and the simplicity of nature being caught in the ritual of shedding one’s bra, but also the fun play with the feminist symbol of the bra itself,” Force said.
As for her own personal story, Yoo said she is excited to have her work displayed in an exhibit like “Seed” – an accomplishment she said has dreamed about. Yoo credits her success to the honesty with which she paints the stories and thoughts from her daily journal into art.
“I’m thinking when I make the paintings, be personal,” she said. “Being yourself is the (best) way you can be special.”