‘Objects of Addiction’: Community-Focused Curation at the Harvard Art Museums | Arts | The Harvard Crimson

Welcome, art enthusiasts! Join me in unraveling the intricate tapestry that links art, history, and the haunting specter of the opioid crisis. Step into the Harvard Art Museums and immerse yourself in the captivating exhibition, 'Objects of Addiction.' Curated by Sarah Laursen, this timely showcase examines the intertwined journeys of Western opium into China and Chinese art finding its way to the United States. Through a series of galleries and thought-provoking displays, this exhibition invites you to question our collective relationship with these entangled histories. Let's delve into the spellbinding details of 'Objects of Addiction' and peel back the layers of this captivating exhibition.

Unveiling the Dark History of the Opium Trade

Explore the historical backdrop of the opium trade and its impact on China, the United States, and Europe.

Welcome, fellow history enthusiasts! Brace yourselves for a journey into the dark corridors of the opium trade that reshaped the destinies of nations. In the first gallery of 'Objects of Addiction', immerse yourself in the historical context of the opium trade connecting China, the United States, and Europe. Witness the intricate entanglement of commerce that emerged while Indian opium flowed into China and Chinese tea made its way to the West in the 18th century. Explore the exquisite Chinese export art, such as delicate porcelains and richness of traditional paintings, skillfully juxtaposed with artifacts tied to opium usage. Stand face-to-face with a haunting opium pipe made of water buffalo horn, a powerful symbol challenging our preconceptions. As you embark on this enlightening journey, consider the interconnectedness of these historic events and the deeply embedded ethical questions that reverberate through the centuries.

Unearthing Power Imbalances in Art Collecting

Delve into the growing demand for Chinese art in the West and confront the complexities and controversies surrounding imperial art collecting and Chinese artifacts.

Would you care to bear witness to a transformative era of booming interest in Chinese art amidst political turmoil? As you step into the second gallery of 'Objects of Addiction', immerse yourself in the intriguing stories of the art world and imperial dynamics. Examine the lasting impact of the Opium Wars and trade conflicts between Western powers, which unleashed a voracious demand for exquisite Chinese artworks. From delicately handcrafted furniture to masterful paintings, the exhibition delves deep into the emergence of collections of 20th-century Chinese art in Massachusetts, even though it is important to note that no work in this exhibition or at the Harvard Art Museums was collected, gifted, or funded by Arthur M. Sackler. Prepare to explore the intricacies and moral quandaries surrounding past collection practices as we ponder the evolving responsibilities of art institutions.

Drawing Parallels: China's Opioid Crisis and Our Own

Reflect on the striking parallels between the historical opioid epidemic in China and the ongoing crisis in modern-day Massachusetts.

Step into the third gallery of 'Objects of Addiction' where the exhibition confronts the contemporary legacy of the opioid crisis. Are you prepared to explore the haunting connections between two riveting episodes of addiction? Reflect on the heart-wrenching stories that awaken us to the parallel struggles faced by both China and modern Massachusetts in combatting addiction's devastating grip. Wander through displays that weave together personal narratives, engaging visuals, and informative resources, shedding light on the destructive effects of substance use disorder. Pause and educate yourself on the impact of addiction on the brain and discover life-saving prevention and harm reduction methods that shape our current response to the opioid crisis. Join us as we question societal norms, challenge stereotypes, and reimagine inclusive approaches against addiction in our communities.

Community Engagement: Stories That Matter

Celebrate the power of personal narratives and community input, as 'Objects of Addiction' invites visitors to share their own stories.

Are you ready to amplify the voices of our communities and make history come alive through personal experiences? 'Objects of Addiction' stands as a powerful testament to the life-changing potential hidden within the folds of each visitor's story. Be part of the narrative as you walk through the captivating art displays and engage with the exhibition's interactive space. Contribute your voice to an ever-growing tapestry of stories by sharing your experiences, leaving postcard-like vignettes on the gallery wall or privately depositing them for archival preservation. Fuel the compelling dialogue that transcends time and space. Together, let's carve out a path towards healing, empathy, and the appreciation of each other's struggles.

Communal Exploration: Beyond the Gallery Walls

Discover a range of engaging community activities and workshops that strive to extend the impact of 'Objects of Addiction'.

'Objects of Addiction' invites you to delve deeper into the harrowing narratives that unfold through historical accounts, art, and personal journeys. Become an active participant as you navigate beyond the gallery walls and dive into the stimulating programming curated in partnership with community organizations. Join us as we engage in eye-opening Narcan training sessions together with the Cambridge Public Health Department and Somerville Health and Human Services. Experience the transformative power of drama therapy workshops hosted by the artist collective 2nd Act, where we explore nuanced perspectives and foster a deeper understanding of substance use disorder. Together, let's take transformative steps towards a society where empathy guides us.


The exhibition 'Objects of Addiction' at the Harvard Art Museums encapsulates the intricate web that binds art, history, and the opioid crisis. Guided by captivating storytelling and thought-provoking displays, visitors embark on an enlightening journey through the interwoven complexities of the opium trade, dark episodes of imperial art collecting, and the striking parallels between China's historical opioid crisis and the ongoing struggle in modern Massachusetts.

By engaging with personal narratives and community voices, this exhibition challenges us to confront our collective responsibility and reshape the narrative surrounding addiction. As we leave the gallery, let us carry forward the desire for empathy, understanding, and proactive initiatives to combat the far-reaching implications of substance use disorder in our communities.


How long will the 'Objects of Addiction' exhibition be on display?

The 'Objects of Addiction' exhibition will be open to the public until January 14, 2024. We encourage you to plan your visit and immerse yourself in this captivating exploration of art and the opioid crisis.

Can visitors share their personal stories related to addiction in the exhibition?

Absolutely! 'Objects of Addiction' embraces the voices and experiences of visitors. Head over to the exhibition's space, you'll find a bulletin board where you can share your own stories of addiction. Alternatively, you can privately deposit your stories for archival preservation. Your contributions will help foster a greater understanding and empathy for the impact of substance use disorder.

Is there any additional programming offered alongside the exhibition?

Yes! In addition to the exhibition, the Harvard Art Museums have organized a range of engaging community events and workshops. These include Narcan training sessions in partnership with the Cambridge Public Health Department and Somerville Health and Human Services, along with drama therapy workshops curated by the artist collective 2nd Act. These interactive activities aim to extend the impact of 'Objects of Addiction' and initiate meaningful conversations on addiction and its reverberating effects.

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