Tea Project at Links Hall

by Amber Ginsburg, Aaron Hughes, and Christy LeMaster

With the support of NPN’s Community Fund, Links Hall hosted the Tea Project in March and April of 2016, expanding the Performance Residency of artists Amber Ginsburg and Aaron Hughes. The Tea Project is an ongoing dialogue that traverses a variety of landscapes. From the tea sipped at a family gathering, to a cage in Guantanamo Bay, to a motor pool in Iraq, tea is not only a favored drink but a shared moment that transcends cultural divides and systems of oppression. When someone sits, sips, and reflects over a cup of tea, there is space to ask questions about one’s relationship to the world: a world that is filled with dehumanization, war, and destruction; a world that is filled with moments of beauty, love, and humanity.

Tea Performance

Inspired by prison guard Chris Arendt’s account and others’ stories of the detained men in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp drawing flowers on Styrofoam cups, artists Amber Ginsburg and Aaron Hughes created an installation work housing 779 porcelain cast Styrofoam teacups, one for each individual detained there since 2001. Each teacup is detailed with the name of one of the 779 individuals along with their country of citizenship. These cups are decorated with a floral design based on the national or native flowers from the detainee’s homeland. There are 49 countries that have or have had a citizen detained in Guantanamo. In each country’s floral design, the number of flowers in the design represents the number of citizens detained from the respective country. The cups are a lasting collection of artifacts reflecting global conflict, while also being individual vessels that are easily lifted out of the display and into your hands for a cup of tea.

In this installation environment Links Hall hosted several Tea Performance and Tea Engagement events with artists, scholars, peace activists, and people who have personally experienced war and the politics intertwined in it.

Tea Project

Tea Performances presented visitors with the opportunity to take part in discussions exploring war, detention, love, and tea. They utilized the space created by the “ritual” of tea preparation and drinking to ask questions about one’s relationship to the world.

Tea Engagements were cabaret style events of first-person narratives, music, new poetry works paired with a poem from Guantanamo, guest speakers, legal activism, academic talks about detention, war, and love. Guests were invited to sit at small tables and sip tea throughout the events.

Among the guest speakers were: Advocacy Program Manager for the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights Aliya Hana Hussain; Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights Baher Azmy; Ben Thompson who served at BCCF on Forward Operating Base Abu Ghraib in 2004-2005 as a compound guard; former US Army Chaplain James Yee, who served as the Muslim chaplain for the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and was also detained for 76 days in this same facility; peace activist, pacifist and author Kathy Kelly; Youth and Arts Manager at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network Sadia Nawab; Seemi Choudry, who is deeply committed to community development and empowerment; Research Coordinator at CAIR-Chicago and Web Content Director with Justice For All/Burma Task Force Tauseef Akbar; Dutch guitarist and singer songwriter Bart de Kroon; Outreach Coordinator at the Council on American-Islamic Relations and a host on Radio Islam Gerald Hankerson; Berlin-based, American artist Jeremiah Day; winner of the African Poetry Book Fund’s 2014 Sillerman First Book Prize for African poets Ladan Osman; Marc Falkoff who has provided legal representation for a number of detainees held in the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; co-chair of the National Veterans Art Museum Ash Kyrie; Iraqi American artist Michael Rakowitz; award-winning author Tom Ginsburg; and others.

As part of the Tea Project, Links Hall also hosted a performance of the critically acclaimed play by Rohina Malik, Unveiled, where the themes of racism, hate crimes, love, Islam, culture, language and life are explored through the story of five Muslim women in a post-9/11 world, serving tea and uncovering what lies beneath the veil.

Among off-site events from the Tea Project, extended radio engagements with artists and guests were aired on Radio Islam WCEV and WBEZ’s “Worldview.”

photos by Giau Truong

The Community Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency).

September 2016


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