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Communitea: CSM alumni working to save the London Chinese Community Centre... with tea

Five tea bags with different illustrations on them
  • Written byEleanor Harvey
  • Published date10 May 2021
Five tea bags with different illustrations on them
Created by Twomuch Studio © Communitea

Ten Central Saint Martins, UAL graduates have come together to create the Communitea Shop; an online art platform in collaboration with Roomfifty to raise money to save the London Chinese Community Centre (LCCC).

Black, gold and white illustration of a tiger
Strength and Resilience by Kenn Lam © Communitea
Orange background with TEA WARMS ALL! in black handwritten font
Tea Warms All by Conrad Haddaway © Communitea

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected thousands of organisations and coupled with the frightening spike in anti-East and Southeast Asian hate, it means the LCCC, the first of its kind in London, is currently facing permanent closure.

And what better way to do highlight the cause than over a cup of tea? As an ancient Chinese ritual of welcome, it’s also beloved in the UK, and can be the catalyst to many conversations. For the team behind the Communitea Shop, “it’s not about spilling the tea on other races. But bringing people together in widespread healthy discourse about Asian culture and its importance in all our lives.”

Illustration of a teapot
You've Got A Friend In Tea by Andreas Hansson © Communitea
Large hand holding a small fortune cookie.
Hope Cookie by Thomas Hedger © Communitea

The campaign launched on 6 May 2021, and the hope is that the online shop will help people appreciate the importance of Asian culture. Communitea features works by a diverse roster of over 50 artists, including around 20 UAL alumni.

Illustration of a hot pot with side dishes
Hot Pot Magic by Lawrence Scanlon © Communitea
Selection of computer generated images of tea pots
TWOMUCH.COMMUNITEA by Twomuch Studio © Communitea

One of the team members, Conrad Haddaway explains; “A lot of people see tea as a British thing when in reality it’s about as Chinese as it gets. It’s a ritual of welcome and unitea (sorry) that we felt was a great tool for connecting people around the world. It’s been working well enough since 200BC!”

Poster for 'Special Gunpowder' green tea
Special Gunpowder by Inga Ziemele © Communitea
Black and red illustration of a person kneeling
Misato by Melissa Kitty Jarram © Communitea

How Communitea came about

In 2020, Kenn Lam witnessed an increase in anti-Asian hate; he says that it “left me worried that this short-sighted and misdirected rage would have lasting effects on the East and South-East Asian community (ESEA) community.”

Illustration of a woman driving with a detailed image of mountains in the background
240 by Kyle Platts © Communitea
Poster with a donut shape and the words Mother's Magic in green
Mother's Magic by Debbie Poon © Communitea

Kenn, who is ethnically Chinese, spent the first few months of the pandemic speaking with East-Asian friends in the US and UK about what was happening. But as he was back in Singapore, he didn’t feel he was able to fight or grieve what was happening, as he hadn’t personally experienced it; “it felt disingenuous and performative to show passion for an issue that didn't affect me directly.”

Cartoon-style image with a person walking, holding a sign that says 'ally'.
Ally by Alva Skog © Communitea
Layered image of a statue with colourful flowers and plants
Visions by Jimmy Turrell © Communitea

That all changed in February 2021, when the issue of anti-Asian hate was finally covered in the mainstream news; the outcry he witnessed from the ESEA community moved him to create an artwork in solidarity with their cause. The piece, titled ‘Strength and Resilience’, led to meaningful conversations where Kenn realised that meaningful change couldn't come from the ESEA community alone. He says, “I quickly realised how absurd it was to believe that the onus for change lies solely in the hands of those suffering from the status quo, that my inhibitions and whatever rationalisations I'd concoct only served to impede me from actually helping the community.”

So Kenn reached out to his circle of creative friends in London, to see what “we, as (mostly) outsiders, could do for the community.”

Painting of a man and a woman sat at a table holding plants
Jasmine and I by Ralph Akhigbe © Communitea
Illustration of a person holding a book open with NEVER STOP LEARNING in large yellow font.
Never Stop Learning by Charlene Man © Communitea

Who are the Communiteam? 

The brief was simple; to draw upon one's ties to Chinese/ESEA culture; pushing the point that anyone can have a connection with these cultures and that consequently, if an ESEA person is hurting, we all hurt.

Illustration of a yellow and a red ox
The Big OX by Yolande Mutale © Communitea
Photo of a building with computer generated eyes and mouth
Larch Street, Tai Kok Tsui by Jack Sachs © Communitea

Including Kenn, the team behind the Communitea Shop all graduated together from BA (Hons) Graphic Design at CSM in 2018:

Colourful illustration of a dragon and the earth
Earth Dragon by Sam Taylor © Communitea
Illustration of a group of people in a tea cup on a river
TEAdventure by Bo Xu © Communitea

A lot of the work on sale is also created by UAL alumni including:

Illustration of a teapot and a vase
Table Top by Famida Begum © Communitea
Graffiti over a tea set
正 by Sam Leung © Communitea

In addition to over 50 beautiful prints, the shop is selling a single symbolic ‘Communitea Bag’ for £45,000, which is enough to reach the LCCC’s JustGiving fundraiser goal and see them through the rest of 2021.

The Communiteam sums up the project perfectly; start talking and of course, enjoy some really kickass art.

the word 'communitea' arched over a photo of a tea bag, against a yellow background
© Communitea

Find out more about the project, and treat yourself to some new artwork, all whilst supporting the LCCC:

For any further information please contact:

hello.communitea@gmail.com

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