Afternoon Chai

SPACE’s sixth billboard commission is by local Redbridge artist Sabrina Tirvengadum and brings to light the fascinating historical links between the London Borough of Redbridge and the East India Company (EIC), which once dominated world trade. The tableau is a pastiche of a painting by William Hogarth, Assembly at Wanstead House (1728 – 1731) which depicts the ballroom of Wanstead House where the Child family has gathered for tea drinking and card playing. Sir Josiah Child, 1st Baronet, was Governor of the EIC, and purchased the Wanstead estate in the 1670s, using his vast wealth to carry out extensive landscape improvements and lay out palatial gardens. His son Richard commissioned a Palladian mansion, Wanstead House, to be built on the estate. Completed in 1722, the house was demolished less than a century later in 1825 and is now the site of Wanstead Golf Course and Wanstead Park. The EIC also housed many of its employees in Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford.

The artist has woven these narratives together in a dining scene. Four women with South Asian heritage sit around an opulent table, set against a window overlooking Wanstead House. Blending AI image manipulation, archival images and digital painting, the artist portrays herself and her friends who all grew up in Redbridge during their teenage years. Titled Afternoon Chai, the group are surrounded by the riches of their heritage: tea, spices, rugs, silk textiles and porcelain, all of which were imported by the EIC and have contributed to the wealth of the local area. The artwork encourages us to discover new facets of Redbridge’s history, recognising the global impact on the local environment.

Among the group sits a friend’s mother, symbolising generations of storytelling and experiences. By exploring the past, we gain insights into our present identities. Through shared history, we connect with the broader world. History isn’t just about looking back; it’s about interacting with it, moulding it, and bringing it into the present. This artwork melds past and present, East and West, truth and fiction. The scenes through the window remind us that history’s remnants are present in today’s landscape, waiting to be rediscovered.

Watch this fascinating film about Redbridge and the East India Company here


2023: Afternoon Chai, Billboard, SPACE Gallery, Ilford, London