Arts·Art Is My Country

Who is the 'real' Grace Han? She's not sure, but in her ceramics she glimpses her invisible self

After moving to Winnipeg from South Korea, Grace Han found her identity in clay and porcelain.

After moving to Winnipeg from South Korea, Grace Han found her identity in clay and porcelain

When I came here to Winnipeg I became very quiet and I wanted to hide. I felt like I lost myself in a way. I just want to be myself. I want to find Grace Han, the real Grace Han.

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Introducing our new series Art Is My Country. See the stories of 10 bicultural Canadian artists explore the rupture and rebirth of navigating somewhere between identities. Watch more.

Winnipeg-based ceramics artist Grace Han is searching for her true identity inside her clay creations. But what is her true, "real" self? For Han it's ineffable, but she catches glimpses in her work. "I don't think I'd be able to explain who the real Grace Han is, but when I do my ceramic work I don't have to think about who I am. The body works and then something invisible turns into the energy and then the work captures that person at that moment."

"I discovered myself in my work."

When Han moved from South Korea to Winnipeg, she felt she became very quiet. "I wanted to hide," she tell us. "I felt like I lost myself in a way. I just want to be myself, I want to find the Grace Han, the real Grace Han." While she studied ceramics in Korea, she never felt she wanted to be an artist, but in Winnipeg she decided to dive in again.

For Han, the materials of ceramics allow her to capture and present the different aspects of herself. With clay she shows the strong part of herself. "Clay can be very bold so with these big pieces I wanted to show the heaviness of the material and the boldness of myself." On the other side of the ceramic spectrum is delicate porcelain which she uses to show the "meticulous and very detailed part of Grace." 

At the moment of creation I slowly take layers off so I can be free. I just want to be free from everything, expectations, pressure, and just be myself.

Han's latest project is a video performance captured in this episode of Art Is My Country that captures her evolution as a new Canadian artist. In the performance, she dresses in a traditional Korean dress and uses a traditional wheel to form her ceramic piece. "This dress it's a metaphor for the expectations or responsibilities that I had to carry that I brought from Korea because this dress gives me lots of restrictions while I'm working." As she works she removes pieces of the dress, symbolizing her own life's cultural shift. "At the moment of creation I slowly take layers off so I can be free. I just want to be free from everything, expectations, pressure, just be myself."

I don't think I'd be able to explain who the real Grace Han is, but when I do my ceramic work I don't have to think about who I am. The body works and then something invisible turns into the energy and then the work captures that person at that moment.

Between these two countries, Han is coming to know her new self that is some of both and also neither. "These days whenever I go back to Korea I don't feel I fit there anymore. I am becoming myself, not Korean Grace, not Canadian Grace I'm just becoming myself and now the frustration is gone."

At the end of her video performance, after she has built a beautiful new jar, she pushes it off the wheel, smashing it on the floor. "I can destroy the jar. My main goal was the process. The jar did its job today."

Art Is My Country is a CBC Arts series that explores the singular worlds of artists who consider themselves bicultural. Seen through the eyes of 10 Canadian artists who have either immigrated to Canada or felt the need to reclaim an identity they thought they had lost, the series examines how each artist uses their craft to navigate, explore and adapt to their new reality and shifting identity.

Each portrait will highlight one artist's story of rupture, displacement and ultimate rebirth as a new artistic voice contributing to the narrative of Canadian culture and experience. Watch the full series now.

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