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Updated: February 28, 2013 17:00 IST

Bonding over tea

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Tea spirit: Dorothee Albrecht
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Tea spirit: Dorothee Albrecht

German artist Dorothee Albrecht talks about a ‘tea philosophy’ that speaks of tea as a unifier

Dorothee Albrecht’s cup of tea holds the good, the bad and the ugly of the world. And the good comes up trumps. The German artist has chosen the popular beverage as a symbol of pacifism amidst a society riddled with conflict. “If you drink tea you don’t fight,” she says with a wide smile. Her installation, The Tea Pavilion: Dictionary in Public, at the Kochi Muziris Biennale (KMB), is a continuum of her fascination with tea and her belief that tea is a unifier, a cup that cheers and cements.

The experience of having tea with her family, as a 14-year-old, of teapots and tea cups, of conversations and dialogues has left an indelible impression on her. She carries it joyfully in her heart, making it an active subject in her aesthetic expression. At the Guangzhou Triennial, 2008, titled ‘Farewell to Post Colonialism,’ Dorothee carried forward the discourse with 2,000 year old tea history that preceded colonisation. She invited 18 art projects from different parts of the world to contribute to the concept.

Connecting cultures

The Tea Pavilion in Kochi has its genesis in this multi-layered idea of tea connecting different cultures of the world. At the Sao Paulo biennale she again invoked the various moods that tea creates. She videotaped contributions from artists in different art spaces. Her work took her to Ramala in Tel Aviv, to Dakar in Senegal and Khali in Columbia. At the venue she created a space where the tea spirit captured in different spaces flowed. It was here she met Bose Krishnamachari, artistic director of KMB, who invited her to present her tea story in Kochi. “And that’s how I am here,” she exclaims happy at connecting with the local tea history.

She visited Munnar, tea factories, tea gardens, labour quarters, the whole gamut of manufacturing and producing tea. She met a group of writers, artists and involved them in the project that takes a look at the social, cultural and political dimensions related to the beverage.

Dorothee followed the local tea trail. She was out at six in the morning visiting tea stalls, meeting different tea masters, informs Dorothee who loves a cup of Darjeeling and Chinese green tea.

An interesting tea performance she held with her group was at the Government General Hospital in Fort Kochi, distributing tea to patients, visitors and onlookers. “Pouring tea to different people at the hospital was a very soothing and good performance,” she recalls stressing on the fact that tea is a soothing drink that creates goodwill. As part of her project she met up with Nand Lal a tea vendor, who has been delivering tea on his bicycle for the past 16 years.

“Tea is a nice way to get a grasp on the global contemporary world. We live in times of transformation and the situation seems complex. So drinking tea together facilitates dialogue,” she says pleased that The Tea Pavilion is encouraging dialogue between the visitors who arrive there for a cuppa.

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