Kim Hyun-ju South Korean, b. 1979


Kim Hyun-ju explores the ancient technique of mother-of-pearl inlay to give a living palette to metal vessel forms. The ethereal quality of the mother-of-pearl interacts with the metal surface, producing an array of tones and enhancing the luminosity of the shell. Her pieces constantly interact with the changing light of their surroundings, transforming with the shifting patterns of sunlight and shadow. 


With a reverence for the heritage of traditional crafts, Kim is driven to reimagine them for a modern context. Her innovation is evident through her reinterpretation of Kkeuneum-jil, the historic practice of intricate mother-of-pearl cutting and inlaying.


Innately meticulous and drawn to the exactitude attainable with metalwork, Kim employs a mathematical methodology to meticulously craft her works by hand. With extreme precision, she inlays finely cut strips of mother-of-pearl (some as thin as 0.1mm) onto the metal surface, achieving a delicate mosaic effect. The finishing process is integral to the finesse of Kim's work. In select pieces, the interior exposes the intricate details of the soldering process, resembling soft stitches. Devoting extensive time—often spanning hours or even days—to polishing, she crafts surfaces that are luminous and tactile. Through this meticulous refinement of her materials, she skilfully balances the inherent strength of metal with a sense of delicacy in form. The extraordinary craftsmanship she exhibits in seamlessly merging two seemingly rigid materials is unique, resulting in her work being featured in the collections of numerous collectors and industry specialists.


In her copper wave series, Kim uses an underlay of Ottchil, a traditional lacquer, to impart a blue hue to the fine white mother-of-pearl. The vessel forms have soft curves introduced near their rim and the endless subtle colours and reflections recall the gentle movement of the sea. 


Her most recent work in brass is iridescent in warm tones as the brass enhances the luminosity of the shell. She introduces a new tactility to to the vessel's interior through meticulously hand-applied scratches. As geometric shapes intersect the mother-of-pearl inlay, the brass underneath is revealed. These lines curve around the exterior and are embellished with an irregular texture, achieved through a process of hammering.

Public Collection(selected)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, USA

 The Ungcheong Museum, South Korea 

The Victoria & Albert Museum, UK