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During the summer of 2013 hand-stitched tea bag books were left around York City. The books were made to collect testimonies of freedom; memories, poems, definitions, stories, metaphors, that spoke of what freedom meant to the person who discovered the little book.

Returned tea bag books were used as part of the ‘Sampo and the Testimonies of Freedom’ installation at the New School House Gallery as part of Illuminate York 2013.

Pictures: exhibition / tea bag books

Why tea?

The little leaf that the British first encountered in China, then cultivated for their own use in India, is now grown across the globe. It’s been used by Buddhist monks as medicine and an aid to meditation, and although it is not native to Britain it has become a Great British Institution. Not unlike the monks in China, British tea drinkers use their ritual of tea drinking as medicine  (it is a remedy to any ailment, physical or social) and as an aid to meditation (the tea break). In Britain if you try you’ll find most conversations can comfortably accommodate the time it takes to put the kettle on, warm the pot, let it brew, sit down and have a nice cuppa.

In relation to human rights, tea has been used for political protest and as a tool to encourage dialogue between conflicted communities. Tea was thrown into the Boston Harbour as an act of protest against the British government’s taxation on tea, this event is now known as the Boston Tea Party. More recently, a mosque in York served tea and biscuits to supporters of the English Defence League, a far-right group that had planned to demonstrate outside the building.

Lu Yu, the Sage of Tea, felt that tea symbolised the harmony and unity of the universe. Tea is a way to offload, share stories and offer advice. Leaving a testimony on a tea bag, is then, not that far removed from the testimonies and confessions we already make over a pot of tea in the company of friends.

the blank page

Tweet your testimony of freedom using the hashtag #LiberteaYork

Advice for writing in tea bag books:

* A simple Biro or ballpoint pen is best. Fancier ink pens can seep through the pages of the book.

* Write on one side of each page, it makes the writing easier to read.

* Don’t worry about being profound, just be honest.

The playful short films below will show you how to make your own tea bag books:

Film 1

Film 2

Film 3

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