Neja Tomšič
Mixed Media

opium clippers

Hand painted ceramics
and storytelling performance,
2017 -

Looking at colonial drug trade as a vehicle for colonisation, this series of ceramic teaware attempts to intervene into knowledge landscapes that overlook drug trades as means of accumulation of capital and therefore as significant currents in the shaping of the political world. The 15 ceramic pieces of Tea for five propose a series of historical figures, companies and events from mid 18th to the end of 19th century; they are additions to existing historical narratives that propose an alternative reading of colonial archives that includes the role of drug trades and traces their presence to the present.

Since the 19th century, the sea has been a site of invisible trade and labour. The infrastructures that allow for accumulation of capital rely on tax evasion, speculation and on new forms of labour and extraction of materials and value embedded in seas and their vicinity,and regardless of their hidden nature, are embedded and present in our shared visible infrastructures.
They exist in immaterial financial flows on one hand, and in the fragility of human life on the other.

Illegal trades, often drug trades, have historically been the basis of colonial projects. How to trace the ways these current manifest, shape and contribut to the lives of communities? How can performative practice expand silent archives? How can past centuries economies be read with the conceptual and visual tools we have today? How can we speak about the current epidemics while and 
by speaking about the past?


Five ceramic tea sets, sound,
for up to 10 participants
Duration: 90 minutes

Available in English, Slovenian, Italian

The Opium Clippers is a visual essay joining hand painted ceramics and performance. The central part of the project are five hand painted ceramics tea sets based on traditional Chinese gongfu tea sets. The work is activated in the form of a tea ceremony that uses ritual and storytelling to shed light
on the history of the China dream that resulted in conflict and colonisation, and in the development of global capitalism.

The history of ownership, sea routes and events connected to the opium clippers, which officially transported tea,
reveals how elite families and companies reached their power through the trade of ‘exotic goods’. On the other hand,
these very families and companies facilitated growth and development and were highly influential in the historical and cultural flourishing of American and
British cities.

As the story of the opium ships unfolds, the tea ritual offers an understanding of profound consequences of tea and
opium trade had on the political world today.


Five ceramic tea sets,
Artist book

The Opium Clippers were performed more than a 100 times. So far they have been presented in 16 countries.

They were performed, among other: at TATE Modern, London; ZOOM Festival, Rijeka; Young Lions Festival, Ljubljana; Bazaar Festival, Prague; Auawirleben Festival, Bern; Sarajevo Winter, Sarajevo;
Winchester School of Art, Winchester; ACT Festival, Sofia; at Cukrarna Center for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana etc.

BOOKING: barbara/at/