Collection by Aaron Britt

Magda Biernat's Betel Nut Girls


I recently chatted over the phone with architectural photographer Magda Biernat, whose work photographing Betel Nut Girls of Taiwan (and the small, contained structures they work in) will be on view at Clic Gallery in New York through March 6th. Betel Nut Beauties is both a cultural and architectural investigation of the roadside stands common across Taiwan that sell paan, a chewing treat made of arcea nut and betel leaves common across South East Asia. Though chewing paan is common across the region, Taiwan has evolved a unique culture around selling it. Betel Nut girls are scantily-clad Taiwanese women who work in small, glassed-in boxes selling the food to passing motorists. Check out the slideshow that follows for Biernat's images and commentary.

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I asked Biernat how these cubicle stores come to be. She replied, "They use shipping containers or whatever small boxes...
"There are two types of stores: mom and pop shops that are family run and like normal shops, and then the Betel Nut...
"The project came about as part of my year of adventure traveling around the world photographing architecture.
The women who work as Betel Nut girls often come from rural areas, and some argue that this background helps them...
"My interest started with the buildings," said Biernat.
The at time ad hoc architecture of the buildings and the highly eroticized dress of the women working there are often...
"It was interesting looking at the Betel Nut stores from the perspective of my relatives in Taiwan and people of higher...
"The girls talked about working for three or four years and then starting their own shops—moving from worker to owner.
"I had an opportunity to work with my husband's brother's wife who is Taiwanese as a translator.
"Coming from an architectural background my architectural eye usually draws me into the photograph.
"Each store is locked and the girl comes out to the curb to sell the betel nut. Then she goes back inside.
Here you see a worker leaving the shop, likely heading out to a parked car to sell paan.
"In the end the project became about the stores and the girls," said Biernat.