Syracuse University’s newest art exhibit

Some bags of rice inside the Syracuse University Art Museum may look edible. But if you really tried to bite, you’d get a mouthful of mud.

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

The bag and accompanying rice pot are part of Shih’s play, My Love Has No Mark. This collection is the second iteration of the museum’s Art Wall Project, which showcases the work of an emerging artist at the front of the museum.

The exhibit reflects Shih’s usual style, as her past work has included hyper-realistic sculptures of food to make a commentary on Asian-American culture. The pieces display great attention to detail – even at a short distance, 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 inviting and cool,” said Melissa Yuen, the curator for Shih’s show.

The play is a commentary on the wide range of Asian-American experiences. Shih said the exhibition’s title 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 Rice Bags and Rice Pots at the Syracuse University Art Museum.
Photo by Kelly Matlock

Shih worked with Yuen to find the best spot on campus for her show. 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 exhibition is located in the Shaffer Art Building, next to the Shemin Auditorium.

Each artwork in the exhibition is sculpted from a real reference. Shih said she deliberately chose bags that varied in agriculture, Asian cuisine, cooking uses and countries of origin.

Shih’s ceramic process is very tactile, Yuen said. To create the bags, she stacks coils of clay on top of each other, creating a hollow structure. Observant viewers will see slight grooves in each piece where Shih’s fingers deliberately shaped and softened the gathered coils. This process captures small details such as the differences in texture between paper bag sculptures and cloth bags.

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

“I was struck by the way in which Stephanie uses this very everyday subject of food, specifically food 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 values ​​authenticity within the Asian diaspora. Her favorite part 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’m excited to showcase Asian American art in such a public space,” Yuen said.

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