Seattle-based glass artist Eriko Kobayashi has transformed the delicate art of glass into a powerful medium that speaks volumes about the fragility of the world's food supply. With her hyper-realistic food sculptures made of glass, Kobayashi not only captivates viewers with the illusion of edible delights but also delves into the urgent global issue of hunger, aligning her work with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger.

Photo of glass artist Eriko Kobayashi at work. Image courtesy of Shoutout LA.

Originating from Japan, Kobayashi brings a unique cultural perspective to her glass art. Her journey from Tokyo to Seattle was driven by a desire to make art more accessible, breaking down barriers that may prevent people from experiencing the beauty of creativity. Studying at the Toyama Glass School in Japan and later joining the Pratt Fine Arts Centre in Seattle, Kobayashi found a platform where she could transform everyday objects into art.

Kobayashi's artistic philosophy revolves around capturing fleeting moments; this is especially true for the works in her series Fleeting Memory. For her, food is a universal language, representing happiness and temporary joy. The medium of glass allows Kobayashi to freeze these moments, creating sculptures that not only please the eye but also evoke personal and shared experiences. 

Her commitment to using glass as a vessel for memories also helps her extend her belief in the power of art to transcend cultural boundaries, as glass pieces tend to last very long and glass-making techniques exist in almost every prevalent culture on the planet. These messages are particularly true in her imperfect supermarket banana piece from the Fleeting Memory series. Here, she has taken the relatively universal experience of purchasing a supermarket banana and added her memory of encountering a bent banana to it.

Bent banana from Fleeting Memory by Eriko Kobayashi. Image courtesy of Eriko Kobayashi’s website.

Her glass art is often whimsical and relatable, as Kobayashi often draws inspiration from mundane food and experiences encountered in everyday life. She intends to engage viewers with the familiar, prompting them to question and rethink the significance of these ordinary items. By imbuing playfulness into technically demanding glass works, Kobayashi offers a positive, energetic, and fun experience for those who encounter her art. Her other piece, Fleeting Memory, which showcases a cracked egg and its shell that has landed outside of the frame, recalls the all-too-familiar experience of cracking egg shells into the pan, again a playful way to engage with universal memories around food that are somewhat equally personal.

Cracked egg from Fleeting Memory by Eriko Kobayashi. Image courtesy of Eriko Kobayashi’s website.pi

While Kobayashi's art is primarily a celebration of everyday life, it also serves as a poignant commentary on global issues. The other side of the coin of having her work done in glass is that it also metaphorically sheds light on the fragility of the world's food supply. A 2022 McKinsey & Company report has stated that the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical tensions, and climate change have titled global food security into a state of high risk. The report states that all those factors have pushed up commodity prices, with wheat and corn now at a 40 to 50 per cent higher average price than they have been for the past decade. Hence, the hyper-realistic food sculptures, such as her bowl of cereal, though aesthetically pleasing, subtly encourage viewers to contemplate the disparities in access to food and the urgent need to address hunger on a global scale.

Cereal piece by Eriko Kobayashi. Image courtesy of Corning Museum of Glass.

Eriko Kobayashi's hyperrealistic food glass works not only showcase her exceptional skill and cultural influences but also contribute to a broader conversation about societal challenges. By alluding to the global food crisis, Kobayashi intertwines beauty with advocacy, inviting viewers to appreciate the artistry while contemplating the pressing need for global initiatives to end hunger. Her glass sculptures go beyond aesthetics, acting as visual metaphors that resonate with the urgency of creating a world where everyone has access to an ample and nutritious food supply.

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