Review: “Corner Store (Take-Out Stories)” at Asian Arts Initiative

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Ernel Martinez (L) and Keir Johnston push their Corner Stores from Northern Liberties’ Piazza at Schmidts to Asian Arts Initiative in Chinatown North_photo by Keir Johnston.

A fantastic exhibition currently on view at the Asian Arts Initiative is Corner Store (Take-Out Stories). The show takes a critical – but also playful – look at the neighborhood corner store and how daily interactions at these ubiquitous spaces unfold. Artists Ernel Martinez and Keir Johnston of Amber Art & Design collaboratively developed the project as an exploration of “contemporary sociological and psychological intersections between pan-ethnic Black and Asian communities in Philadelphia.” Their central question examines how our relationships are shaped based on which side/s of the counter we may stand.

Rooting these concepts into public performance, the artists took the project into the neighborhood by creating portable corner stores on wheels that were then set up on various blocks. Sitting inside the box behind glass screens, the artists invited neighbors to engage questions of language, culture, economics and empathy through face-to-face conversation. Though physically still in the neighborhood, the portable corner stores brilliantly re-position actual stores within the public sphere – the one-man boxes activating places that too often remain unconsidered. 

Corner Store (Take-out Stories) is on view at Asian Arts Initiative through August 22.

For those unable to experience the project in their own neighborhoods, the artists invite you to engage virtually by considering the following questions:

1. Where is your corner store? What is it called?

2. What happens at your corner store?

3. How do you feel about your corner store?

4. Which side of the glass are you on?

5. What is it like to be on the other side of the glass?

6. Is there anything else that you notice about your corner store?  

7. Where do you get fruit and veggies?

The byproduct of these surveys and conversations is yet to be determined, but the project already has Philly talking. And that is always fruitful. 

Corner Store (Take-out Stories) is on view at the Asian Arts Initiative through August 15, 2014. The artists invite you to share your stories at   

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