Two Scoops Art
For billions of people, rice is life—and this month, as the Academy shows us, it’s also inspiration for art.
Poi may be Hawai'i's native starch staple, but rice is more ubiquitous and beloved. "Two scoop rice" epitomizes our food culture. But could this bland starch be the subject of art?
You bet. While we love rice in Hawai'i, there are more than 3 billion people in the world who depend upon it for sustenance. Most of them are in Asia, where rice defines life-physically, culturally, socially and spiritually. Rice is the focus of an exhibit, "The Art of Rice: Spirit and Sustenance in Asia," created by Roy Hamilton, the curator of Asian and Pacific Collections for the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History and 22 international scholars from the fields of anthropology and art.
"The idea was to cover the main rice-producing regions in Asia, to compare and find commonalities, to get one Asian culture to appreciate another," says Hamilton, who, as an undergraduate student in Indonesia more than 30 years ago, became aware of the cultural values associated with rice throughout Asian cultures.
In 1996, with grants allowing for research and international collaboration, "The Art of Rice" began to take shape at the Fowler Museum, where it opened in the fall of 2003. This month, the exhibit travels to the Honolulu Academy of Art.
Rice dictates the life cycle and social hierarchy of people in countries including China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, India and Indonesia. Daily life centers around the production of rice, requiring families and communities to work together.
Rituals and folklore about rice abound in these areas. Rice is viewed as possessing a spirit of its own. Many believe that a "rice goddess" or "rice mother" gives rice to humans.
Rice is used for expression, too, and that is the thrust of "The Art of Rice." You'll see practical implements associated with rice production, as well as baskets, clothing and other articles made of rice straw, sake (rice wine) bottles, sculptures of beloved deities, the depiction of rice in classic paintings and woodblock prints, popular posters, puppets, ceramics and textiles.
After seeing this exhibition and reading through its voluminous catalog, you'll never look at "two scoop rice" the same again.