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Arts & Humanities Research (MPhil) (PhD)

Leren Li

Research Project Title: Transcultural Patchwork: Japanese Boro and Mending Culture in Contemporary Design.

Supervisor(s): Dr Sarah Cheang

Leren Li studied for her PhD in the History of Design programme. Her current work focuses on Japanese patchwork and mending crafts in the context of transcultural design studies. She received a Master of Arts degree in Fashion Studies from Parsons the School of Design. Her research concentrates on subculture studies and contemporary Chinese fashion in the context of material culture and visual culture studies. 

Degree Details

School of Arts & Humanities

Arts & Humanities Research (MPhil) (PhD)

This thesis investigates boro as a revived cultural phenomenon, one that physically originated in Japan but that has been conceptually defined by other cultures. It excavates the layers of value and meaning embedded in boro as a result of making, collecting, exhibiting and design activities in order to reveal how and why people have begun to appreciate boro within a range of different cultural, spatial and social contexts. In doing so, this research challenges the existing literature documenting boro’s origins and authenticity and reveals the forces at play behind the transformation of boro from folk craft to the practice of contemporary art, design and fashion. 

Born out of necessity, boro combines materials, techniques and aesthetics that are rooted in Japanese mending culture and textile traditions. Drawing on Michael Thompson’s Rubbish Theory, the research demonstrates how, as boro’s functional value has decreased in the contemporary context, new values have been re-ascribed to it through its continuedtranscultural production in diverse contexts, in which boro has adopted a range of different roles from antique object and example of textile practice to vintage fashion style, a concept promoting sustainability, inspiration for creative practice and cultural symbol. This research critically evaluates these dimensions of the process of value creation through studies of personal and museum boro collections, new boro fashion design and recent boro practices of independent crafters. 

The return of boro in the global art and design landscape raises questions about how a revived phenomenon is translated in today’s diverse contexts and makes a special claim for boro’s original culture, how it communicates in other cultural spaces and how these are understood and reproduced in new possibilities. This thesis positions boro within a global context, demonstrating how the co-creation of meanings and values has developed through cultural connections and subsequent interpretations.