Jin Hee Jun’s Uplifting Clay Sculptures Emphasize Diversity

Creating his latest ceramic sculptures gave Jin Hee Jun a sense of hope during the pandemic. “I could walk through the long tunnel to normal,” she says.

Feeling in harmony with them made her happy. The sculptures are on display in Mind, an uplifting exhibition at the Carnegie Gallery.

Jun is an award-winning ceramicist and teacher. Originally from Korea, she now lives in Burlington. She has been exhibiting locally and internationally for over 30 years, creating freestanding and relief sculptures in clay. His subjects have included animals and landscapes.

The 30 pieces in this exhibition focus on the human figure and measure 25 to 36 centimeters in height. Each is hollow and features a head atop a long neck. The rounded elongated shape echoes the vase format, a natural source of inspiration for a ceramist.

Jun says his sculptures could be self-portraits. As such, they are a kind of “daily diary of sadness and hope”. But she also adds that they can be seen as gender neutral and inclusive of all of us.

At first glance, they may look similar, but they are definitely not identical in shape, size, and color. Jun says she used 10 types of clay to emphasize the differences.

“To express more diversity, I used different colors and textures like earth, brown, black, pale white and ivory.”

She hand builds each piece with coils of clay and builds from the bottom up, stopping to manipulate the surface to achieve the perfect lips and eyes. She ends by covering her head. And then she adds more: tiny sculptures and painted patches. These additions can represent a state of mind, says Jun.

The cutest green and red bird ever sits on “Serene’s” pale head. Jun painted the bird’s alter ego, or its shadow, on the part of the head where it sits. A few clouds float over the face and neck – an appropriate sky backdrop for a bird.

“This piece was made in 2019, just before the pandemic, when I was going to come away with a new point of view for my works, a new beginning,” she says.

Jun’s facial treatment is beautifully stylized and includes the omission of certain features, including the nose and ears. And what she chooses to include, she depicts with minimal detail, but with variations like the shape of the eyes and lips. In “Serene,” for example, the eyes are simple horizontal lines with a few wispy lines around them for the eyelashes. The mouth is in the shape of a recessed red circle.

A bird could possibly sit on someone’s head. And the floral crown in “Speckled: Corolla” is at first glance pretty enough to wear on the head. But drops—raindrops and tears—appear on the face and neck, some from the eyes, others from the crown rolled up like a crown of thorns.

“While my head thinks of hope and peace, my heart is still hurt and sad,” she says of this piece.

Other headdresses are more fanciful, such as the whale, the chair, the pillar of fire, the stones and the clouds.

In “Sinking”, a boat sits on top of the head, carried by the waves rising from a piece of green sea. Jun continues the green seascape under the eyes, covering the rest of the face with green polish in a wavy border accented with the occasional spiral. In “Pale: Stairs”, tiny white steps on the head lead to a pair of wings. Green and blue clouds complete the peaceful ambiance.


Regina Haggo, art historian, lecturer, curator, YouTube videographer and former professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

Jin Hee Jun


WhereCarnegie Gallery, 10 King Street West, Dundas

Whenuntil July 3


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