When we think about the staples of Asian cuisine, rice springs automatically to mind. However, as a recent exhibit at Stony Brook University’s Charles B. Wang Center made clear, potatoes are also fundamental to food cultures across the Asian continent.
In the spring of 2018, the Wang Center made the pomme de terre the subject of its exhibit “Potasia: Potatoism in the East,” which featured a total of 88 potato art pieces from the United States and Asia. This week, the popular PBS television show Lucky Chow will air an episode that highlights the exhibit, along with Wang Center director Jinyoung Jin.
“The PBS broadcast will expand the Wang Center’s visibility and attract a wider audience,” said Jinyoung Jin, the Center’s director of cultural programs. “Audience response was great, because the exhibit was humorous and serious at the same time,” she said.
Hosted by Danielle Chang, Lucky Chow explores Asian cuisine’s impact on American food culture while discovering how deeply Asian culture is rooted in our everyday lives. A social media post about the exhibit caught Chang’s eye, resulting in a lively segment filmed at the Wang Center and airing February 5.
Featured in the “Potasia” exhibit were sculptures, drawings, paintings, photos, videos and even socialist propaganda posters — abounding with food for thought, curious and fascinating examples of the ubiquitous food source as represented in Asian popular culture, including art, cartoons, books, videos, movies, songs, toys and snacks.
“We received reviews from The NY Times, Newsday and the Wall Street Journal,” said Jin. “I guess the Wang Center, and more importantly, our exhibits, are genuinely unique.”
Highlights from the show include:
- Socialist Posters
The potato is the primary subject of this unique collection of socialist posters from China, North Korea, Russia, and Vietnam. These posters offer unique insight into the socialist societies of these four countries, often highlighting the potato as a crop of high importance to their populations. Potatoes in this medium are usually depicted as a vibrant plant pulled from the soil, bearing a bumper crop to emphasize the vegetable’s high nutritional value. Once considered to be a secondary food item, the potato has since become the main staple food in these countries, replacing rice and wheat.
- Awakening by Okada Noriko, 2018, 36 x 36 x 7 inches, Monoprint on fabric, yarn, and ceramics
Multidisciplinary Japanese artist Noriko uses the potato to stand for the conflict between nature and culture. Growth is a natural phenomenon, but humans do not look kindly upon this process when it comes to potatoes. A potato’s normal biological function produces a potent toxin for humans if ingested. Therefore, potato farmers ensure that potatoes are harvested as tubers, and after the harvest, potatoes are kept away from light and other conditions in which they can grow.
Now that the Center is on the international “map,” expect other upcoming shows such as an exhibition for Fall 2019 tentatively titled “Korea: A Land of Hats,” to receive media scrutiny. This exhibit will showcase 20 types of male hats in Korea from 1880 to 1930 that distinguished social status as well as different seasons and occasions. The exhibition will illustrate the process of social change through various traditional hats. Western modern hats of the period such as the fedora, Panama and beret and historical photographic materials that capture the meaning of Westernization and the struggles of colonial identity.
“We don’t always feature fine art but, instead, the overarching theme of Asian culture,” said Jin.
— Glenn Jochum