Tea: From the Land of a Thousand Hills

23 May – 22 September 2012

Tim Smith's Photographs of Rwanda

Rwanda is a beautiful, lush and mountainous country whose rich volcanic soils produce some of the world’s best tea. Sadly Rwanda is associated in Britain with the genocide of 1994, but this exhibition of photographs shows how its tea industry is playing a key role in the recent transformation of this tiny country and its people. And it is tea that links seemingly remote communities living high in the heart of central Africa with North Yorkshire, the home of one of the most quintessential of British brands – Yorkshire Tea.

Photographer Tim Smith travelled to Gisovu, Mata and Kitabi, three tea estates in the rolling mountains that rise to 10,000 feet along Rwanda’s borders with Burundi and Congo. They all border Nyungwe Forest, one of the largest tracts of mountainous forest remaining in central Africa, and the only substantial expanse of rainforest left in Rwanda. Due to its antiquity and its range of different altitudes the forest is a remarkably rich centre of biodiversity; it is home to at least 200 different types of tree and thirteen species of primates. Nyungwe is also the most important catchment area in Rwanda, supplying water to 70% of the country, and is renowned as the furthest source of the River Nile.

Tim Smith’s photographs explore how, as Rwanda’s biggest export earner, tea is a very important part of the country’s on-going development process. The pictures are a revealing portrait of communities that rely almost exclusively on the tea produced by Gisovu, Mata and Kitabi, the three estates which consistently command the top three prices of any teas grown in Africa and which supply Taylors of Harrogate, home of Yorkshire Tea and Yorkshire Gold. Given the country’s troubled past the tea industry has a vital role to play in Rwanda’s future.

Find out about the history of tea drinking too with a selection objects from the museum's collection.

The exhibition is also featured in this year's York Museums Trust project Art in Yorkshire Goes Modern.