If you could walk through a time machine and visit the landscapes and history of tea, it might look like the new exhibition, Steeped in History: The Art of Tea, now on display at UCLA's Fowler Museum until November 29, 2009.
Nearly a decade of dedicated attention went into the creation of this seminal collection of Chinese, Japanese, European and American tea ware, paintings, scrolls and other tea paraphernalia. The exhibition was put together artfully by guest curator and author Beatrice Hohenegger, who wrote the fascinating book on tea,Liquid Jade(2006 St. Martin's Press).
Click here to listen to an interview with Beatrice Hohenegger:
Staged in five parts, the exhibition introduces tea itself, then covers tea's fascinating history from its origins in China, into Japan, through the "Tea Craze in the West" and finally to "Tea and Empire." The collection and exhibition catalogue highlight the many expressions of tea, from sacred objects to priceless and exquisite examples of art and craftsmanship to the off-beat and obscure.
The collection offers both a historical and sociopolitical look through tea's past and Asian origins as well as to the European and American influences on its present. It is also a call to attention towards the human cost of colonialism as well as that of mass produced commodities. That Hohenegger is able to scold with an arc of absurdist humor points to the intelligence and good nature with which she created the exhibition. You are meant to be disturbed, but also awed, amused, and intrigued.
This is an amazing opportunity for students of tea, ceramics, Asian philosophy and history, or the sociopolitical ramifications of colonialism and commodity manufacturing--to view the story of the world's most loved beverage, next to water.
Whether you make it to the show or not, you will want to purchase the catalogue (with the same title as the show) for its scholarship on tea. This remarkable anthology of essays, written by Ms. Hohenegger and a carefully selected group of experts with divergent points of view and interests in tea, is a must for anyone dedicated to the study of tea. To buy a copy, you can call the Fowler Museum store at 310-206-7004.