The tea can be modest as well as elitist — and is a leveller of sorts in a society riddled with economic disparity. That is the key message wafting from a new pavilion at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

At the main venue of the ongoing art festival, an innovative stall that was opened on Sunday. Among its striking features is a rack full of glasses that have lip-marks left by a spectrum of people across the globe who drank the boiled beverage that is believed to have originated in China 3,500 years ago.

“We seldom remember that the tea we sip from anywhere has a long history of accepting kiss from many,” says Dorothee Albrecht, a Berlin-based artist who is the brain behind ‘The Tea Pavilion — Dictionary in Public’. The project has come up at the Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi, in collaboration with a team of volunteers led by Sajan Mani, editorial assistant with the biennale.

The tea glasses thus become intimate objects for the rich, the poor and the middle class alike, points out the artist, whose installations have graced quite a few biennales across the world from 2008.

The pavilion here bears a Kerala flavour, what with images from the tea estates of Munnar in Idukki district. It houses photos of labourers working in the rolling plantations, the various stages of processing after the plucking of the green leaves and even a tea museum at Periyakanal in the higher ranges of the slender southern state.

The pictures are not just pastoral. There are a lot of related vignettes from this bustling coastal city. The exhibits throw light on tea-stained kettles along the busy lanes of Kochi, the sellers transporting the drink on bicycles, people sipping the cups from roadside shacks…

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