Inside the Collection

History Week: Rice bowls – food, memory and tradition

Bowl, oxidised steel/silver / gold / bronze / 'odong' in 'choum ibysa' technique, made by Joungmee Do
Bowl, oxidised steel/silver / gold / bronze / ‘odong’ in ‘choum ibysa’ technique, made by Joungmee Do, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1999 ‘choum ibysa’ Photography Marinco Kojdanovsk:i Powerhouse Museum .

Memories and food are often wrapped up together, a well known example is that of Marcel Proust, his Aunt Léonie and her lime blossom madeleines.

Rather than madeleines, Joungmee Do, a Korean-Australian artist, uses the concept of the rice bowl to explore her own personal memories and meanings associated with food and tableware, in the context of Korean culture and tradition. Rice is a staple food and culturally significant in Korea, and the rice bowl is not just a functional object. Of her work, Bowls, Do says,

The concept and aesthetic style of these bowls was influenced by the Korean daily utensil, the rice bowl …When I started making these bowls, I was thinking about my childhood memories, which are linked to the idea of the rice bowl. Personally a bowl not only acts as a container for objects, but also symbolizes a receptacle for the thoughts of myself or someone else.”

Do created ‘Bowls’ from oxidised steel inlaid with gold, silver, bronze and odong (a copper-gold alloy) wire, using the traditional Korean metal craft technique of jjoum ipsa (or choum iybsa). In this process, the artist uses a chisel and chasing hammer to create closely spaced indentations across the entire surface of the object in horizontal, vertical and diagonal directions. The resulting surface of the object has the appearance of woven fabric. Metal wire can then be inlaid into the chiselled surface to create a pattern.

Bowls (detail of male bowl), Joungmee Do,1998
Bowls (detail of male bowl), Joungmee Do,1998. Photo: Marinco Kojdanovski : Powerhouse Museum

‘Bowls’ was created as a pair, one male and one female, in the way that Korean rice bowls are conventionally presented. The male rice bowl has a domed lid covering the bowl, and both the lid and bowl are densely covered in intricate inlaid patterns, with a blue-black oxidised steel background.

Bowls (detail of female bowl), Joungmee Do,1998
Bowls (detail of female bowl), Joungmee Do,1998. Photo: Marinco Kojdanovski: Powerhouse Museum

The female rice bowl has a hole in the centre of its lid, and is also decorated with inlaid wire against an oxidised steel background. However, the female rice bowl is less ornately decorated than the male, emphasising the fabric-like chiselled surface texture.

The inlaid patterns used by Do were inspired by Joseon dynasty bojagi, or wrapping cloths. In the strict Joseon society, wrapping cloths were a way in which women could creatively express their respect for the recipient and love and wishes for their family. Wrapping cloths were used in many different ways, to wrap, cover, carry or store objects. A specific example, sang po, were used to cover food or food tables (Kim Kumja Paik 1998: 13, 16-18).

Through the making process of ‘Bowls’, Do was able to bring together personal memories and Korean culture and traditions, combining the personally significant form of the rice bowl, the ipsa technique and the bojagi style decoration. Do says,

“When I was practicing the iybsa technique, each chisel mark and hammer stroke proved equal to every single line of stitching in a wrapping cloth. The feelings involved in the chisel mark or stitching line were very similar, and this united and transcended the past and the present.”

You will be able to see these bowls in the upcoming exhibition, Spirit of jang-in: treasures of Korean metal craft, opening on 27 October 2011 and running until 12 February 2012.

Alysha Buss, Assistant Curator, Spirit of jang-in: treasures of Korean metal craft


Do, Joungmee, Artist Statement, unpublished manuscript.

Kim, Kumja Paik, 1998, ‘Profusion of colour: Korean costumes and wrapping cloths of the Choson dynasty’, in Roberts, Claire and Huh, Dong-hwa (eds), Rapt in colour: Korean textiles and costumes of the Choson dynasty, Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, pp 10-18.

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