Tea for five is realised as a visual essay joining illustration and research. The central part of the project are five hand painted ceramics tea sets, adapted around the traditional Chinese gongfu tea sets. Each tea set illustrates the history of a particular opium clipper and consists of a tea cup that depicts the ship; a tea pot that depicts the historical event, and the tea pitcher (chahai) that depicts maps, individuals and events related to the ship.
Tea for five takes place as an exhibition accompanied by a gongfu tea ceremony during which each visitor is served tea in an individual tea set. During the ceremony, the artist narrates the story of opium and tea trade in 18th and 19th century through stories of ships.
Tea for five illustrates the history of Chino- American and British relations through narratives of five ships that were involved in the opium and tea trade: the Houqua, the Lintin, the Eamont, the Sylph and the Sea Witch. It tells the story of the China dream, that resulted in conflict and colonisation, and development of capitalism in 19th century China. The history of the opium fleet does not only document this particular era, it also sheds light on its consequences and the understanding of the political world today.
I didn’t want to make a classical exhibition. Because after knowing the context of the opium wars, it is clear that they should be called tea wars, I decided to paint the story on ceramic tea sets for the Chinese tea ceremony. For me, it is essential that people hold the ceramics and drink tea from the cups. I thus decided to present the ceramics as gongfu tea ceremonies for five people at a time, during which I narrate the story depicted on the tea sets.