IVANKA CHAI (2018)

On a hot and sunny day in the summer of 2018, a modest Lithuanian tea stall was set up at the Turkish Market in Maybachufer, Berlin. Somewhere between a DIY pop-up café and a representational stall in the souks that saturate the best cultural produce, an equally saturated stallholder was offering what is known in Lithuania as Lithuanian green tea, Ivan’s Chai in Russia, or Fireweed tea in English speaking countries. 


The national claim to this tea remains dubious, and this has been reflected through the wide range of objects found on display at the tea stall—a samovar (a heated metal container traditionally used to heat and boil water for tea that was used both in Soviet Russia—therefore Lithuania—and in the Middle East), šakotis cake (a Lithuanian national dish that also happens to be a German national dish called baumkuchen), and amber jewellery (Lithuanians seem to have a strong hold on it, claiming amber as their national gold, despite the fact that the majority of amber is found in the Kaliningrad territory). Truly a cultural amalgam, this stall embodied the reflection of the street market as a melting point of different cultures, imbued with unruliness and spontaneity.

This single-day event, titled Ivanka Chai, was orchestrated in collaboration with Kabinetas nomadic space as part of the Berlin Project Space Festival. The stall sought to bring Fireweed tea—mostly picked wild in Lithuania and then sold by elderly women in street markets—from the Kaunas markets to the Turkish market in Berlin. The name itself—Ivanka, opposed to the masculine Ivan—stood as a representation of the collective body of women from whom the tea was bought. Ivanka Chai thus took its inspiration from the idea of the market as a social and political space, where work becomes an integration within, as well as a reflection upon a place of meeting and exchange.

MARIJA NEMČENKO ARŽANYCH