This rounds out today’s short series of posts written for GOOD’s online festival of food-related writing.
I first heard of the Taiwanese spatial subculture of betel nut shacks last autumn when a former student of mine at USC, Yu-Quan Chen, showed me a project he once proposed, inspired by these anomalous yet everyday spaces.
I was thus interested to see that Polish-born, New York-based photographer Magda Biernat will be exhibiting a group of images she’s made called Betel Nut Beauties, a few examples of which are seen here.
The Clic Gallery describes Biernat’s project as “a photoseries documenting the compelling phenomenon of roadside betel nut stands across Taiwan.”
A fixture on the streets of urban and suburban Taiwan, these brightly lit, often ramshackle huts sell a mild stimulant made from the nut of the areca palm and wrapped in betel leaves… Staffed almost exclusively by young women, the stands cater to longhaul truck drivers and, like taxi dancers or cigarette girls in casinos, the betel nut girls are encouraged to dress in skimpy clothes to lure in male customers. Snapped while waiting for their next sale, Biernat’s compassionate photographs capture the isolation and tedium of these sellers who themselves are on display, a daily existence bounded by walls of glass.
Biernat describes these buildings as “luminescent structures” where sex, economics, and food overlap—thus making the title of this post (“spaces of food…”) referentially problematic, as if the women themselves are objects of both bodily and aesthetic consumption. “The colorful shops,” Biernat writes, “with their scantily clad employees make for a startling contrast against Taiwan’s often drab urban landscape.”
“These are glass and neon jewels,” Biernat adds, “beckoning the customer with the high of not only the betel nut, but of the interaction with the betel nut girls.”
The exhibition opens February 7 at the Clic Gallery in New York, with an opening reception on February 10.
—Spaces of Food #5: Madeira Odorless Fish Market and the Tempelhof Ministry of Food
—Spaces of Food #4: Betel Nut Beauties
—Spaces of Food #3: The Mushroom Tunnel of Mittagong
—Spaces of Food #2: Inflatable Greenhouses on the Moon
—Spaces of Food #1: Agriculture On-The-Go and the Reformatting of the Planet