South Korean artist, Jeong Hwa Lee, uses the medium of jewelry with its associations to the body and socially prized objects to explore humankind’s relationship with the earth and our allo-human neighbors. In her series, “Mine,” Lee minifies strip mines to translucent and glowing ring-sized representations that rival the beauty of the gems that come from them. The rings are crimson red, to represent blood diamonds, or earth-toned, and they are often accented with mineral gold. She also further explores this theme through the creation of brooches that resemble the crystalline structures that are plucked from the walls and floor of a mine. For these brooches, she uses Japanese paper clay, with its association to earth, to fashion objects of substantial visual weight that are meant to symbolize the replacement and healing of the scarred areas of the earth and a return in the mind of the wearer and viewer to a state of wholeness and remembrance. Lee’s desire is for her rings and brooches to find a place in jewelry boxes next to the precious products of the mining process, visualizing the home from which the gems and minerals were extracted and reminding one of the cost to the earth for their removal.
Also of close personal importance to her is the condition of our oceans. Raised in Busan, a coastal city in the southeastern part of Korea, Ms. Lee was surrounded by the ocean and fishing. She understands and appreciates the importance of the seas to humans, and she desires to raise the awareness and consideration of humans to the condition of the oceans and marine life. In her “Hae Yang” series, Ms. Lee combines translucent resin, discarded human-made materials from beaches, and film images documenting human-marine interaction to create brooches and necklaces tackling pollution, whaling, and shark-finning. The images, sometime bloody and raw, due to their form as jewelry, are thrust into one’s personal space necessitating consideration and requiring a wearer to come to personal terms with the subject matter.
Jeong Hwa Lee, has had a motto that has guided her since youth, “Let’s make the world a little more beautiful than it was before I was born.” Her hope as an artist is that her explorations and resulting work will generate a story that will become a part of other people’s own small talk and bigger conversations, eventually leading to the end of one story, and the beginning of a new brighter story. The medium of art jewelry gives her the ideal venue to accomplish this desire.
Ms. Lee earned her BFA and MA from Hanyang University, and has exhibited her work in Asia, Europe, and North America.