Artist Norleen Nosri's CommuniTEA Ceremony at McCluer Built Bonds, Connected Students

By Krystin Arneson
In Culture

Students at McCluer High School in Florissant gathered May 5 to participate in an traditional tea ceremony today, though not by any typical definition: It was part of a social art project by Norleen Nosri, sponsored by the Craft Alliance Center of Art + Design and funded by Emerson, that symbolizes unity in a community still grappling with fractures.

Tea sets, courtesy of Norleen Nosri.

Tea sets, courtesy of Norleen Nosri.

Nosri crafted the porcelain tea cups used in the ceremony, on which 1,500 of the students, beginning in February, inscribed their wishes. Messages of “Encourage youth,” “We can do it,” and “Stop killing, more living” were inscribed among many others. When the principal, Jane Crawford, held her cup up in a toast in front of the gathered students, Nosri says, it symbolizes the adults upholding the wishes of the children. In another way, it gave closure to a year begun with the nearby killing of Michael Brown and the protests that followed in its wake.

That happened around when Nosri moved to the area with her husband and younger daughter. She adapted a similar project she’d done for local government in Columbia, Missouri, to respond to the social climate and need for change. “What can I do to be part of this? Whatever I do, I’m thinking about my daughter. What’s the best thing for her?” Nosri says. “What can I do so she can be safe and independent and healthy and happy? What system can we create for future generations?”

Nosri forming a base, courtesy of Norleen Nosri.

Nosri forming a base, courtesy of Norleen Nosri.

She was inspired by the feelings of belonging, bonding and human interconnectedness that rituals like a tea ceremony create between those who gather for them. “Tea drinking has a sense of social cohesion,” she says. It also symbolizes giving and receiving, a communal sense of gratitude for being part of a whole as individual issues are set aside to partake in the moment.

The teacups are minimalist—no doubt due to both the production scale but also to reflect a community’s sense of quietude and to encourage intentional awareness, Nosri says. The students took this to hard as they reflected on the project and what to inscribe: “Kids are like sponges,” she says. “They do want to impress and do their best if you give that opportunity to them and ask, ‘If I gave you something to write that would outlast us, what would you write?’

Large-scale production of tea cups, courtesy of Norleen Nosri.

Large-scale production of tea cups, courtesy of Norleen Nosri.

They’re printing something personal into something permanent. They have a sense of care to it, just the way they touch their bone-dry cup, and it was amazing the way they take their time. That care is enough for me to hope that it’s going to work.”

Nosri has made more than 2,600 cups all in (with some help from her husband, she says) between McCluer and McCluer South Berekeley High School, which is also involved in the project and will have a ceremony of its own on May 21. The project has a Facebook page here.

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