Photographs courtesy of Asian American Women Artists Association

Photographs courtesy of Asian American Women Artists Association

Eating Cultures reflects a wide array of countries, like Viet Nam, Thailand, China, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. Top: Scupture by Cathy Lu Bottom: by Cynthia Tom, Trafficking; Stop Eating our Women and Children.

May 2014

Eating Cultures Easy to Digest

Jim Van Buskirk

Eating Cultures, curated by Michelle A. Tom, showcases “over fifty art, film, and literary works by emerging and established Asian Pacific American artists,” exhibited at the SOMArts Cultural Center this month. Co-presented by the Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA) and Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center (APICC) Eating Cultures’ curatorial advisors are Linda Inson Choy and Cynthia Tom.

AAWAA, with offices at 1890 Bryant Street, is “dedicated to ensuring the visibility and documentation of Asian-American women in the arts.” Through exhibitions, publications and educational programs, the nonprofit offers “thought provoking perspectives that challenge societal assumptions and promote dialog.” Last year it presented UnderCurrents & the Quest for Space at SOMArts. It recently produced The Worlds of Bernice Bing, a 34-minute documentary about the Chinese-American, lesbian, North Beach-based activist and artist. And in 2007 it published Cheers to Muses: Contemporary Words by Asian American Women. 

Celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, AAWAA is rolling out a new website,, a component of which will be “the first comprehensive online archive of contemporary Asian American women in the arts.”

The national organization advocates using art to examine issues of class, gender, and race, and to express hitherto silenced, erased, or forgotten voices. Through its Place of Her Own Social Service Initiative, AAWAA partners with social service providers to conduct artistic workshops for immigrant women and girls. Rape, incest, domestic violence and other traditionally taboo topics are explored in safe, non-judgmental settings where the focus is on visual expression.

Eating Cultures’ opening reception, on May 1 from 6 to 9 p.m., will feature food catered by La Cocina Incubator Kitchen. La Cocina’s mission “is to cultivate low income food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance and access to market opportunities,” focusing primarily on women from immigrant and communities of color. 

Whether American- or Asian-born, the background of the thirty-six artists included in Eating Cultures reflects a wide array of countries, like Viet Nam, Thailand, China, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines, and a variety of media including, watercolors, artists books, painting, sculpture, and sound installation. The artists range in age from 19 to 88. The commonalities of their experiences outweighs their ethnic differences. Sigi Arnejo, whose father was a Filipino migrant worker, created an audio piece celebrating “my food, my family, and people.” Kayan Chung uses cartoons to depict the invisible labor behind Chines food production. The title of Cynthia Tom’s quilted “lasagna” sculpture says it all: “Human Trafficking Stop Eating Our Women and Children.” Jessica Tang’s embroidered sculptures mimic the cultural dualism of Asian-American identity and culture by replicating a take-out box, a Cup o’ Noodles container, and a Chinese bowl. Jung Ran Bae uses more than 700 teabags and stacked oversized teacups in her site-specific sculpture “Poignant Truth.” 

Programming includes a panel discussion, “Eating Asian American,” on May 10 from 2 to 4 p.m. co-presented by the Culinary Historians of Northern California and in dialogue with the recent anthology Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader, edited by Robert J-Song Ku, Martin F. Fanalansan and Anita Mannur. On May 17 from 2 to 4 p.m. a Literary Sriracha, a reference to Thai hot sauce, curated by May-lee Chai, will offer “a spicy mix of poetry, mini-memoirs and flash fiction.”

A Community Recipe Wall and Asian American oral histories by Southern Foodways Alliance will be ongoing throughout the exhibit. The closing reception, on May 30 from 6 to 9 p.m. will feature a performance by Genevieve Erin O’ Brien and a community potluck. 

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