Maddie Inskeep is a fourth year English student fascinated by story and storytellers of all kinds, forms, backgrounds, messages and mediums. She loves to learn and write about art - especially about the artists that make it, forever intrigued by the mysterious, myriad things that drive humans to create. If you have a story to tell, or would like your story told, you can find her in the corner of Aikmans on Bell Street, St. Andrews. Preferably with a whisky.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to an event in St. Andrews that has truly transported me, that has made me forget how small a fishbowl we live in – or has challenged me to see the details of our strange, three-street microcosm in another way. As students, we are a diversely-interested and energetic community – though I think we’ve all had our moments where bubble-madness sets in, and we instinctively seek something to reset our gauges, and remind us that the world is far, far larger and more beautiful than we might have the energy to remember during that midnight slog home from the library.
My particular (and needed) reset came this last Friday evening, at an event hosted by Vienna Kim and Sarah Park in collaboration with the Art History Society and the Korean Society, titled 밥 (bap). I will readily admit that I had no real idea what to expect, but I knew I needed to go – and thank my lucky stars I did.
The Barron – a grimy, hair-ball-infested veritable bin of theater paraphernalia, paint, good memories, and general detritus – had been truly transformed into the homiest of galleries. Gone was grim and grit and general disorder; in its place, I found whimsy, color, light, and the strangest sense of something I can’t describe as anything other than “Self-Made Home.”
Fairy lights, twinkling over the calm beats of Korean RnB and a mix curated by Liquid Alloy, led me around corners and up stairs – along my way, I was greeted by ramen wrappers, plates of eggs and spam and toast, a table of stir fry, dumplings, and general munch-ables (my tummy still gives thanks to the food gods for these delectable treats) but the true hosts of the evening were the prints of Subin Yang.
Subin is a Korean contemporary artist / illustrator who has lived in India and the United States, and as Vienna Kim explains, creates pieces of art that “are laden with the complexities of her mixed cultural background, but portray them in a bright and colorful manner.” A focus of both Subin’s artwork and the exhibition was that of food’s power in bringing people together an imparting culture – many of Yang’s prints centered on different kinds of ethnic dishes, portraying the joy, community, warmth and uniqueness of food experiences in an informative, colorful and lighthearted way.
At first glance, I saw her art as mere cheerful color – I saw happy bodies, cartoon worlds, and vegetables with faces… but about after 3 seconds of looking at any one of her prints, it changed. The colors got a bit brighter, the depictions of food and people stopped being cartoonish and all at once felt familiar; before I knew it, the safest, most comfortable, and most recognizable sensation in the world had settled into my belly. It was the very precise feeling of being at home - or very near to it - with a bowl of something delicious and warm in my lap, something made with time and care and love. Comfort + food.
You may find it strange that I should get all this from a small student art exhibition in the Barron, especially as most of the foods and places depicted in Subin’s artwork were unfamiliar to me. I may have lived in Asia for an extended period of time, and I may have grown up in Southern California, where an exposure to Korean food and culture has allowed me to grow accustomed with certain flavors and dishes… but I can’t claim any experience from my time in Asia or exposure to Korean foods and traditions in California that might explain why Subin’s art – the exhibition itself - felt so… well, homey.
I’m not sure if it was the simplicity, the whimsy, or the mere presence of food (always a 10/10 score in my book) - but as I mentioned, that sense of a “self-made home” filled that room. The impact of artwork and an environment centered on the idea of finding an identity, safety, a joy and a community, through food, especially across cultures - was somehow more comforting and more needed than I expected. I guess, as students, we all try to make ourselves at home here in St. Andrews in whatever way we can – we fail and succeed to varying degrees, but whether we are aware of it or not, we do try.
Vienna Kim and Sarah Park, the organizers and hosts of the exhibition, confronted that very effort in their short film, “Oil + Ink,” which was screened alongside the exhibition. The short, simple film explored how food and language are integral elements of understanding a culture – your own, or another’s. To use Vienna and Sarah’s words, the film “plays with comprehension, exclusion, and detachment with a place that should be home,” and in watching it, I felt I understood more clearly how important it is, as we grow, to cultivate our senses of home, especially as we travel through unfamiliar places.
The exhibition brought me back to a sense of home – but more importantly, it sent me away knowing a bit more of how to bring that sense to others. Whether it be through simple conversation, artwork, vulnerability, the sharing of a meal - the process of making ourselves at home, wherever we are, has less to do with establishing a bubble of our own, than it does with accepting and honestly exploring the wider world by which we are surrounded. So thank you, Subin, Vienna, Sarah (and the lovely members of the Korean Society and the Art History Society) for 밥, for inviting us in – I hope we can all share a meal together again soon.
You can find Subin and her work on Instagram at www.instagram.com/subinie94.