Syracuse University’s Newest Art Exhibit

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Syracuse University’s Newest Art Exhibit

The several bags of rice inside the Syracuse University Art Museum may look edible. But if you actually tried to take a bite, you’d have a mouthful of clay.

“I love that people often mistake the images for their real-life 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 showcases an emerging artist’s work at the front of the museum.

The exhibit reflects Shih’s usual style, as her past work has included hyperrealistic sculptures of food to comment on Asian-American culture. The pieces show a strong attention to detail – even at close range they appear to be real bags of rice.

“One thing that stands out to me about this exhibition is that the art is just so attractive and cute,” said Melissa Yuen, the curator for Shih’s show.

The show is a commentary on the wide variety of Asian-American experiences. Shih said the title of the exhibit is a play on a common Chinese saying: 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 bags of rice and rice cookers in the Syracuse University Art Museum.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Matlock

Shih worked with Yuen to find the best location on campus for her exhibit. 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 in the Shaffer Art Building, right next to the Shemin Auditorium.

Each artwork at the exhibition is sculpted from a real reference. Shih said she deliberately chose pouches that differ in agriculture, Asian cuisine, culinary customs and countries of origin.

Shih’s ceramic process is very tactile, Yuen said. To create the bags, she stacks clay rolls on top of each other, creating a hollow structure. Viewers who pay close attention will notice light grooves on each piece where Shih’s fingers deliberately shaped and smoothed the stacked coils. This process captures minute details such as the textural differences between the sculptures of paper bags and cloth bags.

The different bags of rice also spark conversation about variations in Asian-American culture, Yuen said. Shih aimed to make a commentary on how the Western gaze flattens and reduces rice to represent an entire culture. Shih demonstrates this through the subtle changes in texture and variety of brands to show the wide variety of experiences in the Asian diaspora, Yuen said.

“I was struck by the way Stephanie uses this very quotidian subject of food, especially grocery items, to explore issues about identity, about culture, about authenticity,” Yuen said.

As an Asian-American curator, Yuen said she has a nuanced perspective on the exhibit and appreciates authenticity within 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 Art Museum until 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,” said Yuen.

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