Tea is the most-consumed beverage in the world, a billion-dollar industry that has  shaped Sri Lanka since 1867; the industry employs almost five percent of the countryʼs population. However, while tea often commands a high price in shops around the world, we rarely see the realities of the people who bring it to us.

Within Each Cup is a visual journey behind the production of Ceylon tea, examining its timeless presence in Sri Lanka culture. It goes from the steep tea fields and into the 100-year-old barracks homes of Indian Tamil people who have worked on the plantations since British colonization. These workers were brought from India specifically for tea plantation work; generations later they remain culturally segregated from the rest of Sri Lanka and wholly dependent on the plantations for income, community, and housing.

The industry has changed very little over the last century, as evidenced by the original  factory equipment, processing techniques, and the strict caste system that exists between men, women, and the employees on each plantation. And while tea is a popular  highlight for visitors to Sri Lanka, the focus in this story lies in the livelihoods of Tamil families and the pristine, sometimes primitive ways of survival that have been given to them, which is often hidden by the commercial facade of tourism.

How to View

During the day, the installment can be viewed on monitors inside the ICP Museum and during evening hours, images are literally “projected” onto the windows of the ICP Museum; they can be viewed from the sidewalk outside the Museum and are most visible after sunset. Learn more about Projected.

About the Artist

Schmoo Theune is an American photographer living in Berlin. She holds a masters degree in biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University and began a career in cancer research before discovering her purpose of documenting human stories.  Her commitment to photography as a visual voice began with partnerships with local and national non-profit organizations, in support of their missions of cultural  preservation and education. Various publications, including BBC News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and End Roads & Kingdoms have recently featured her work. In 2016, she dedicated herself to pursuing visual arts full-time, focusing on stories of gender, identity, and belonging.


TOP IMAGE: © Schmoo Theune