A new exhibition at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in south London will explore the many stories of Britain’s national drink, asking us to consider what’s really in our cup of tea.
茶, चाय, Tea (Chá, Chai, Tea), opening on Saturday 7 October 2023, will reveal tea’s complex history and myriad of meanings – from its popularisation and globalisation connected to stories of imperialism and colonial violence, to inspiring artistic expression, cultural customs and national identities, it is simultaneously deeply personal and political.
The tea stories on show span millennia, connecting communities across the world. The exhibition’s name, 茶, चाय, Tea, (Chá, Chai, Tea) reflects the global reach of the world’s most popular drink after water, enjoyed by billions of people.
The exhibition will also consider the founding history of the Horniman Museum and Gardens itself, using wealth made through the Horniman’s Tea business.
Highlights of the exhibition will include:
- plant specimens and tea samples from the collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
- teacups and pots from China, India, the UK and beyond including beautifully decorated Chinese porcelain-ware and a Indonesian tea-set made entirely from cloves
- a crossbow on loan from the British Museum and a display of opium pipes, exploring the link between Britain’s tea trade and the Opium Wars in China
- promotional tins, models and posters used to market Horniman’s Tea
- tea recipes from different cultures, for visitors to try at home
- co-developed installations, videos and interventions exploring the relevance of tea across cultures today
- a series of three rotating ‘takeovers’, including work from UAL (University of the Arts London) fellow Maia Conran.
Navjot Mangat, Senior Curator of Social Practice at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, says: ‘The history of Britain’s favourite drink is far more complex, emotional and international than we might expect. From the origins of the Camellia sinensis plant and tea-drinking culture in China, to tea’s global spread and relationship to empire and identity, the 茶, चाय, Tea exhibition brings together a multitude of voices and stories into a compelling blend of personal, historic and artistic explorations of our daily cuppa.’
The exhibition has been developed in partnership with organisations including Bollo Brook Youth Centre in Ealing, The British Asian Collective, Cuppo Bubbo in Herne Hill, THIRST (The International Roundtable for Sustainable Tea), Grass People Tree, Hackney Chinese Community Services and Matheson Bosanquet Tea Estate in Tamil Nadu, India, as well as artists and academics.
To complement the exhibition, the Horniman will offer a series of events including tea tastings, themed family crafts, language tours of the exhibition and more.
茶, चाय, Tea is supported by The Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund – delivered by the Museums Association, and by The Radcliffe Trust.
Entry to the Horniman and to the exhibition is free.