Chuan Nitta

Did You Eat Yet?

Did you eat yet? Or as my Korean grandmother would ask in her dialect, “밥 먹었니?” A seemingly simple question from the surface, it holds more meaning than most people would expect. Following the devastating Korean War, food was scarce in Korea. To ask if someone had eaten was equivalent to asking how they were doing. As Korea slowly healed from the war’s devastations, the tradition carried on to the present day to show care about someone’s general well-being. I wish to ask this question to not just the people who visit my show, but also to extend the question to the Korean diaspora.

My thesis project titled, “Did you eat yet?” is a show dedicated to my Korean grandmother, Kang Yusun. Growing up in my first-generation immigrant household, my grandmother has always been the matriarch of the family — devoted to protecting and taking care of her family members. I’ve always had a strong emotional connection with my grandmother and a need to make work about her. As she gets older and nearing her 90s, I want to take this time to discover more about my grandmother’s personal identity, despite the language barriers we face. Even though she is my grandmother, there is so much I don’t know about her that she almost feels like a fictional character. By learning and researching more about her, I am also learning more about where I come from and the generational line that connects me to my ancestors. Despite my desperate attempts to connect with my grandmother’s life story, however, I’m also realizing and accepting that she isn’t permanent.

Through a primarily multichannel media installation that involves video, printmaking, painting, and sculpture, my project explores memory as a landscape, mortality, and ideas of access — what I choose to offer and hide from my audience — all while sprinkling in stories of Korean mythology and folklore. Designed to be a domestic space in the Korean countryside, I am incorporating textile and embroidery work in my project to honor the same labor of love my grandmother has done her whole life, while also challenging the ideas of what “belongs” on the white gallery walls. My interest in craftwork began early in the Covid-19 pandemic, when art supply stores were all closed and I could only work with what I had at home, which were my grandmother’s fabrics and sewing supplies. Also included in this show, such as the cushions and crocheted coaster, are handmade items from her and other women in my family — a collaboration and celebration of female creativity. Much of my work in this show involves the hand to honor traditional women’s work, or craft, that has largely been ignored in the fine arts world. While this show is partially an offering for the Korean diaspora, it is also ultimately a small love letter to my grandmother in a language without words. With this show, I hope to provide the viewer a belly full of food, just as my grandmother has provided for me.