Cultivating the growth of the poppy flower, sugarcane, and poisonous plants from the Caribbean, La Charada China highlights plant-based narratives of colonial conquest across Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
Focusing on how plants are entangled with human lives, La Charada China traces how addiction to the opium poppy was weaponized and used biopolitically by Europeans to manipulate trade advantages, culminating in the Opium Wars. These events caused widespread poverty and chaos in China, and resulted in the exportation of over 200,000 Chinese ‘coolie’ labourers, who were forcibly shipped to sugar plantations in the Caribbean and USA between 1847 and 1874, often working alongside or replacing African and indigenous slaves. With these new relationships between African, indigenous, and Chinese workers ensued botanic proximities between opiates, sugarcane, and the tropical plants that had long been used by plantation workers as forms of resistance: medicinal treatments, suicide, abortion, and poisoning.
Growing these plants in a mound of earth composed of red clay and guano, La Charada China highlights disregarded histories of exploitation and marginalised workforces up to the present day, also referring to cement production in Cuba and California, and guano harvesting in Peru. Central to this installation is an anthropomorphic shape stamped into the earth who represents the silhouette of the figure from La Charada China (The Chinese Charade), a Chinese-Cuban gambling game with magical and superstitious significance drawn from various Spanish, African, and Chinese folk-magic traditions. The daily act of caretaking and watering required to encourage these poppies, sugarcane and tropical plants to emerge from the earthen body, during the course of the exhibition, references society’s ongoing endeavour to archive and historicise, and the survival of cultural practices and local knowledge in the midst of contemporary crises of human trafficking, forced labour and migration.
This is the second iteration of La Charada China, which was first exhibited in Los Angeles as part of Made in L.A. 2018, the Hammer Museum’s biennial exhibition in summer 2018. Lin intends for the work to travel between its corresponding locales in the Americas, Asia and Europe.
Candice Lin, born 1979 in the USA, lives and works in Los Angeles.