A Nice Cup of Tea? tells the untold stories and hidden narratives of empire, trade and transatlantic slavery through a contemporary art installation inspired by the Ashmolean’s European Ceramics collection.
A cup of tea represents comfort for many of us, but every sip connects us to the legacy of the British Empire, global trade and transatlantic slavery. The fashion for drinking sweetened tea from China inspired the luxury tea sets in the Ashmolean European Ceramics Gallery. Behind this wealth was the brutal exploitation of enslaved people producing sugar in the West Indies.
I was commissioned alongside sculptor Lois Muddiman to create an artwork installation which took inspiration from the Ashmolean’s ceramics collection while also speaking to the tea trade’s dark past. Crafted over cups of tea, we created an installation that amplifies the stories, lives and resilience of Oxford’s communities, particularly those of Oxford’s Windrush generation and African Caribbean community, many of whom have family links to the transatlantic slave trade. Through this process students from the University of Oxford, artists were able to contribute to its development alongside the Ashmolean museum team, and community group BK LUWO actively engaged in elements of the making of the artwork. The installation is completed with stunning portraits taken by photographer Fran Monks and an audio recording were local residents from the African Caribbean community share anecdotes of their lives in England.
View the gallery below to see how it all came together.
Images courtesy Ashmolean Museum and Enam Gbewonyo.