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Janeil Engelstad and her project MAP - Make Art with Purpose were at the dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany this past week. Held once every five summers, Documenta is one of the largest and most dynamic art surveys in the world. At least two of the more than 150 artists exhibiting at the thirteenth iteration of Documenta served tea as a part of their project.

And, And, And, an artist's collective from the United States, planted a community herb garden that included a tea hut where tisanes, picked from the garden were brewed and served, free of charge, every afternoon. Tea was also served daily at The Sahrawi Tent Cooperative, a project of Robin Kahn in collaboration with La Cooperative Unidad Nacional Mujeres Saharauis (The National Union of Women from Western Sahara). The tent, one of more than 50 projects installed in small structures throughout Kassel's Karlsaue Park, is a gathering place for tea, lentils, couscous and conversation. Kahn will be on location at various times throughout the exhibition to talk with audience members about the Sahrawi Refugee camps and the plight of the Sahrawi people. Every day at noon mint tea is served to people from around the world who are visiting Documenta. The Sahrawi's traditional tea is a unique blend of fresh mint with a subtle green tea and sugar. Traditionally the tea is prepared and served throughout the day and is a central part of social and political conversations and gatherings.

Tea came to the people of the Western Saraha, including the Saharawi, in the 18th century through trading with the British. A tea ceremony was developed as a part of the long journeys through the Saharan desert on camel back. As tea or sugar cannot grow in the area the Saharawis traded for these goods. Thus the tea was precious and highly valued. Despite the high value of the tea, the ceremony became a central aspect of the Saharawi's life and hospitality. A tea ceremony includes a teapot made from Tasmint metal, called Abrig or Abarad; a Tabla (tray) made of bronze or metal; and bowls, called Kuntya and A'msar, for sugar, tea and mint. The tea is poured into cups from a high position creating a light foam on top of the brown liquid.

A Saharawi saying describes the tea as an expression of their spirituality, that the first cup tastes as bitter as life, the second as sweet as love and the third as soft as death.


Image: Janeil pouring tea (not quite as high as the Saharawi) in Robin Kahn's tent project at dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany. Photo by Oto Hudec, 2012.