Syracuse University’s newest art exhibit

A few bags of rice at the Syracuse University Art Museum might look edible. But if you really try to bite, you will have a full clay.

“I love that people often mistake the sculptures for their real counterparts from afar,” said Stephanie Shih, the ceramic artist behind the sculptures.

The bags and accompanying rice cooker are part of Shih’s show “My Sweetie Has No Pockmarks.” This collection is the second iteration of the museum’s Art Wall project, which displays the work of an up-and-coming artist at the front of the museum.

The exhibition reflects Shih’s usual style, as her work in the past has included hyper-realistic sculptures of food to make a commentary on Asian-American culture. The pieces show a strong attention to detail – even from a short distance they look like real bags of rice.

“One thing that stands out to me about this exhibit is that the art is so inviting and sweet,” said Melissa Yuen, the curator of Shi’s show.

The show is a commentary on the wide range of Asian American experiences. Shi said the exhibition’s title is a play on a common Chinese proverb: if children don’t finish their food, every grain of rice left in their bowls after dinner will be a pimple on their future partner’s face.

Shih’s exhibits include both rice bags and rice cookers at the Syracuse University Art Museum.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Matlock

Shih worked with Yuen to find the best location on campus for her display. Together, they developed the exhibit to explore the history of the Asian diaspora and its effects and to show the SU community that Asian American identity is not monolithic. The exhibit is located in the Shaffer Art Building, right next to the Shemin Auditorium.

Every piece of art in the exhibition is sculpted from a real reference. Shi said she deliberately chose bags that differed in agriculture, Asian cuisine, cooking uses and countries of origin.

Shih’s ceramic process is very tangible, Yuen said. To create the pouches, she stacks coils of clay on top of each other, creating a hollow structure. Onlookers who pay attention will see light grooves on each piece where Shih’s fingers consciously shaped and smoothed the arranged coils. This process captures minute details such as the textural differences between paper bag sculptures and cloth bags.

The different bags of rice also spark a conversation about variations in Asian-American culture, Yuen said. Shih aimed to craft a commentary on how the Western gaze flattens and reduces rice to represent an entire culture. Shih demonstrated this through the brand’s subtle changes in texture and diversity to showcase the wide range of experiences contained within the Asian diaspora, Yuen said.

“I was struck by the way Stephanie used this very everyday topic of food, especially food products, to explore questions of identity, of culture, of authenticity,” Yuen said.

As an Asian-American curator, Yuen said she has a nuanced perspective on the exhibit and values ​​authenticity in the Asian diaspora. Her favorite piece is “Asian Best Milagrosa Jasmine Rice” because it’s a brand she personally grew up with.

The exhibit will be on display at the Syracuse Museum of Art through the end of the academic year, but one piece, “Extra Fancy Botan Calrose Rice,” will remain after the exhibit closes. Yuen encourages students to visit both this exhibit and the museum as a whole to enhance their academic experience with a creative outlet.

“I am excited to display Asian American art in such a public space,” Yuen said.

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