“Steeped: The Art of Tea” leaf-s viewers with lukewarm impressions

13 April 2017
James Whisenhunt, Commentary Editor

“Steeped” allows artists the chance to examine how tea impacts human lives and culture, though only a small number of the pieces went beyond a cursory glance.

108 Contemporary recently opened “Steeped: The Art of Tea,” part of the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities’ year-long series based on cultural representations of food. As the name implies, “Steeped” is a collection of pieces inspired by tea, a theme that most artists took fairly literally.

The collection was comprised mostly of different types of tea kettles, made out of wood, various metals and even rolled newspapers. Though the general idea was the same for many artists, the inspiration was often different. One kettle shaped like a Native American woman was meant to be a reflection on the artist’s heritage. Another piece, a large and slender kettle made of paper, was meant to represent her tendency to drink tea while she reads.

Unfortunately, not many artists took the theme beyond making a kettle or a cup. 108 Contemporary is a fairly small venue, so giving the pieces enough space to themselves means that there weren’t more than 30 pieces to see.

A few pieces in the exhibit really stood out as unique ways to represent the position of tea in life. One video piece focused on a man brewing and drinking tea as he drew pictures of an old home he was forced to leave. The video ends with the tea slipping out of his hand and ruining the drawings, reinforcing the idea that he must move beyond the memories of a place he can’t return to.

Another excellent piece was a 16×17 grid of tea and coffee stains on pieces of paper, collected over the course of 144 days from drinking alone or with friends. The sheer size of the grid alone was enough to emphasize how these drinks can bring people together and facilitate conversations.

Though a lot of the pieces in “Steeped” are surface-level expressions of how tea affects daily life, the impressive pieces are enough to justify heading downtown for the exhibit. Admission to 108 Contemporary is free, and “Steeped” is open until May 21.