Asian American Artist Uses Cookies as Her Canvas

    26 May 2023

    Artist Jasmine Cho paints images of both well-known and forgotten Asian Americans. But she does not use paper or canvas to create her art. She uses cookies.

    Cho, who is also a baker, said the sweet treats "are the perfect platform for education, activism and healing..."

    The 39-year-old Korean American artist calls herself a "cookie activist." She said she believes her art comes from a feeling of not belonging when she was young.

    Jasmine Cho works on a cookie portrait of Filipina mambabatok tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od in Pittsburgh, Pa., May 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)
    Jasmine Cho works on a cookie portrait of Filipina mambabatok tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od in Pittsburgh, Pa., May 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

    Cho has gained fans over the last several years for her detailed cookie faces. Actors Awkwafina, Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomita are among those who have praised her cookie designs.

    The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Cho has lived since 2009, even honored her with a "Jasmine Cho Day" in 2020.

    Back in 2016, Cho was busy making cookies for her online bakery, Yummyholic. She decorated cookies with faces for a friend's birthday party. The cookies received attention on social media. Soon, others wanted her cookies, too.

    Cho said, "It felt like a sort of superpower." She had an "aha moment" of how to use her great power with great responsibility.

    Cho grew up in Southern California and New Mexico. She said she noticed when Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were not represented in movies, television shows or even history books. It made her question her own sense of belonging in America.

    "That was always a pain point for me growing up," said Cho. "So, I kind of always had this question: ‘I wonder if I could use this point of joy for me to address this pain point?'"

    Cookies, she said, were the answer.

    A few months after making her first cookie faces, Cho held her first showing. She made cookies of Asian American Pittsburgh natives like actor Ming-Na Wen. She also made one of Leah Lizarondo, the founder of 412 Food Rescue. The organization decreases food waste in over 25 cities in the U.S. and Canada by giving unsold food to people in need.

    Lizarondo remembers how surprised she was to find out that Cho had made her into a cookie face. For the Filipino American, the honor was not a waste of food.

    "I shared it as widely as I could as I was so proud to be among the people she did cookie portraits of," Lizarondo said by email.

    Cho spends between four and six hours on each cookie face. She draws the cookie face by hand, fills it in with icing and then lets it dry.

    Her art has taken her to interesting places. In 2019, she wrote and drew images for a children's book, Role Models Who Look Like Me. In the last few years, she has made over 20 virtual and in-person appearances at universities, schools and other gatherings. She also leads cookie-decorating workshops.

    Her favorite thing is when young Asian Americans feel empowered by her work.

    "They tell me things like, ‘I learned more in your 15-minute talk than I have in my whole class that's about Asian American history,' or something like that," Cho said.

    One of Cho's cookie faces is an image of Betty Ong, a flight attendant who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Ong's niece found Cho's creation on Instagram and contacted her.

    Cho said, "For a family member to reach out and just thank me for sharing her story in the way that I did ... reminding me of the tenderness that comes with this work, the importance of it."

    I'm Ashley Thompson.

    Terry Tang reported this story for The Associated Press. Hai Do adapted the story for Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    cookie - n. sweet, baked goods that is usually small, flat, and made from flour and sugar

    baker - n. someone who makes food such as bread, cookie and cake

    platform - n. something that lets someone to tell a large number of people about an idea or product

    decorate - v. to make something more attractive by putting something on it

    aha moment - n. a time when something is suddenly seen, found or understood

    portrait - n. a painting, drawing or photograph of a person

    icing - n. sweet flavored mixture used to coat baked goods

    tenderness - n. gentleness and affection