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A Blinkered View – High Tea, Low Tea

Print on leather, textile, kettle, tea, wood, iron construction. 2 videos 5 min.


Painting on kettles: Anex
Photography in tea plantations Mie Cornoedus
With thanks to Van Loon Museum, Amsterdam

Photograph by Thijs Wolzak

‘Suspended Histories’ at Van Loon Museum

‘A blinkered view – High Tea , Low Tea’
Mella Jaarsma
‘A Binkered View’–we have to live with the idea that humans can see things only from one or a few perspectives (related to our background), but we can never see anything from every angle.
I am interested in how expansions were achieved during the beginning of the Dutch East India Company/ Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC, and how the Dutch authority performed in an area so far from home with one and a half years at sea to sail back and forth. They conquered territories through division of authority with native princes and kings. The VOC, governing at a distance, depended on good contacts with local royals, the elite and ?? Chinese, in order to carry and uphold power . ‘A Blinkered View’ is a work about power relations between the suzerain and vassal, the ruler and subordinate, exploiter and the one being expoited. I am researching these relations and their extremes, -like the servant and the one to be served, and how these borders are blurred or reversed. From the later half of the 18th century The Sultan of Yogyakarta Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono IIV hired white militaries and Dutch coachmen in order to increase his status (De Nederlandse Ontmoeting met Azie, 1600 – 1950, Kees Zandvliet, p 311)
For this work I have been looking into the tea cultures that have developed over the centuries. The first introduction of tea in Europe was at around the same year that the VOC was established at the beginning of the 17th century.

Wikipedia: Around 1610 for the first time a small quantity of tea was brought to the Netherlands and in the first instance got examined as a curiosity. Later on in the 17th century, the VOC started shipping larger quantities of tea to the Netherlands. That tea came from Batavia, where tea was brought from China. In the 18th century drinking of tea became really common in the Netherlands and the VOC started to directly import tea from Guangdong in China.

In the 19th century tea plantations in Java were mined with tea trees from India. The sister of my grandfather lived her adult life with husband and children close to a tea plantation in the Malabar district, on the slopes of the Pengalengan plateau close to Bandung. This plantation and struggle of the ‘planters’ is the source for the book ‘Heeren van de Thee’ by Hella Haassen. I traveled to this plantation and stayed there to explore the area and the tea factory. Malabar is also the name of the area along the south-west coast in India, which was also a Dutch colony from 1661–1795. It is interresting to realize that not only Assam tea plants were brought from India but also the names of areas like ‘Malabar’.
Tea plants live for generations since the colonial time up until now. Every 15 years they are replaced by a new plant, a sprout of the old plant. The old tea trees are brought to the tea factory, in order to burn, heath and dry the leaves for the tea process. The old factory built by Bosscha in 1896 is still in use and became an Indonesian state company after independence.
I worked with the painter Anex from Jatiwangi. Jatiwangi is a village in West Java along the famous Java Great Post Road, commissioned by Herman Willem Deandels in 1808. I looked into this location with its reversable meanings. Deandels was praised because the road was built in one year. It has great historical importance and at the same time is known as the ‘blood road’, because Daendels used Javanese unpaid forced laborers to perform most of the heavy work, which resulted in thousands of deaths due to the difficult physical and health challenges.
Romantic ‘Mooi Indie’ landscapes are painted on kettles by Anex copying the surroundings of Jatiwangi. Romantic and beautiful refering to the ‘Mooi Indie’ paintings from Colonial era and at the same time representing the past and the cruelties that took place in this aera and unromantic daily life. The kettles I brought to the Malabar tea plantation were carried by labourers and workers in the field, the factory and by the servants at the former Dutch directors house.
High Tea – Low Tea
The best quality tea produced in Indonesia is not available to the Indonesian people but directly exported. The finest quality tea produced at the Malabar tea factory, it is told to me, is sold to be served to the upper class around the world. The Malabar Tea exported to the Netherlands we find as the refined ‘pickwick’ tea in the shops. Tea that we find in the supermarkets and shops in Indonesia is a rough big leaf tea.
6 performers, 3 in the kitchen and 3 in the garden room- one standing , one sitting, one serving. Two types of tea will be served. The high quality tea and the rough Indonesian tea. The performance is about serving, to be served, status, standard and taste.
An interesting detail is also that looking at colonial Dutch pictures, you find the servants standing and the Dutch sitting while being served. With Indonesian nobles, the nobles are sitting on a chair or standing and the servants being placed on the floor, -the servants have to be in a lower position.