Wall-to-Wall exhibit showcases tea sampling and East-Asian art

by Matthew Rodriguez

Artist and graphic designer Nancy Nguyen, 28, waits patiently for tea leaves to steep in a glass teapot sitting atop a wooden serving tray similar to a miniature garden. She fills the outer border with water, flowers slowly rising up to the surface.

“Inside-Looking”: Art & Tea Exhibition, which ran from Sept. 17-19 at Fools & Horses Coffee Company, was Nguyen’s first showcase as part of the Wall-to-Wall Mural & Culture Festival, an art showcase featuring artist murals and workshops around Winnipeg.

“We had a big crowd on the first day and it was a little hard trying to find some zen with people coming in-and-out, but I think it was a huge success in the end,” said Nguyen.

Daniel Pastuck, owner of Prism Kombutcha, explains his tea fermentation process to “Inside-Looking” eventgoers. MATTHEW RODRIGUEZ

“Inside-Looking” features Nguyen’s art through sumi-e ink paintings, a Buddhist-based art form using black ink and rice paper, and Ikebana, a Japanese art practice of arranging flowers.

“It’s been a little bit difficult to explain my work without having to talk about the history of East Asian art,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen, who is from Winnipeg and of Vietnamese descent, studied fine arts at the University of Manitoba. She moved to Vancouver in 2014 to create art-based centers on her experience being an East Asian woman in Canada.

During an artist talk held on the last day of her showcase, Nguyen said her art is based on the “egocentricity of a Western worldview and the ecocentric style of Eastern art.”

Nancy Nguyen, 28, demonstrates Gongfu cha, a tea tasting demonstration, at her Wall-to-Wall art showcase “Inside-Looking” on Sept. 19, 2019. MATTHEW RODRIGUEZ

Nguyen said she has demonstrated the ceremony before on her Instagram, but it was her first time showing it in public. The tea tasting demonstration, known as Gongfu cha, is a skill used to bring out taste profiles of various tea leaves.

Nguyen partnered with Prism Kombucha, a fermented tea company based in Winnipeg, to provide the tea leaves.

“The translation from the paintings to the tea tasting looked so beautiful in action. I’m glad I got to be a part of her art,” said 28-year-old Michelle Urutia, a friend of Nguyen. “I’m so proud of her.”

Nguyen plans to showcase her exhibition for Wall-to-Wall next year, but she is making plans to see if she can demonstrate Gongfu cha around Canada in the next few months.