We might pass by a corner store without a second glance, but not Lee Me Kyeoung. The South Korean artist has made it her life’s work to chronicle these small—and often humble—shops before they close and disappear from their communities.
Me Kyeoung's delicate pen drawings depict these places as solitary subjects against a stark white background, at most surrounded by a few trees. This focus allows her to showcase the stores’ wonderful details, from crates of fresh fruits stacked outside sliding doors to the plants that line the front of the building. Although they might be similar in their offerings, through Me Kyeoung's drawings, we see how their individual personalities shine.
Many of these places are being pushed out to make way for new developments. But in doing that, much is lost—particularly the communities that their presence fosters. “The small corner shop located near a well or opposite side from the wooden bench under the zelkova tree was the place for people to communicate with each other,” Me Kyeoung tells My Modern Met. “And there were many stories as much as the number of products displayed in.
“Now almost every small shop is very old and shabby. It seems ridiculous to see the tiles slightly fall in and the asymmetric added slate roof. A cracked cement wall and a light-brown sliding door are typical scenery of small stores. A striped awning installed by paying money attracts our gaze. Advertising posters on the door are just attached like faded paints. Plastic chairs that are always empty. It is like an invisible meeting of alienated people. The scenery seems calm and lonely even though there is some whispering.”
Although these places might be in disrepair, the memories for many remain fresh—including Me Kyeoung herself. “When we open the narrow door of the store, recollecting the old memories, the store might give the sweetest, over the familiarity to even a stranger. That is a charming point of small stores.”