A small Pekingese dog was taken from China at the end of the Second Opium War by British troops, brought to England, and gifted to Queen Victoria. This dog was renamed Looty, after the activity of “looting,” in reference to how the dog was found during the looting of the Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) outside of Beijing. Looty lived for twelve years at the British royal palaces and died in 1872. It is not known where she was buried.

Looty Goes to Heaven revives Looty’s story in the context of Birmingham, which is the current site of Crufts, the largest dog show in the world, as well as the home of Ty-phoo tea, a brand named after the Chinese word for doctor. The colonial trades of tea and opium were closely linked and directly led to the Opium Wars. Similarly, the arrival of Pekingese dogs in England informed new trends in dog breeding and eugenics. Like the other living things brought into colonial systems of profit, Looty became more precious because she was stolen, but also more degraded.

Taking the form of an animation, a speculative fiction, and a poppy meadow, Looty Goes to Heaven presented in the area of Digbeth, where the now defunct Ty-phoo tea factory is located. The looping animation shows Looty in a state of eternal rest, while the speculative fiction, available as a free publication in English and Traditional Chinese, imagines what Looty’s life and afterlife may have been like.

The meadow, to be planted after the Commonwealth Games end, is a legacy project that will feature varieties of papaver somniferum (opium poppy) alongside a wildflower meadow. A small version of this meadow will grow this summer at the Digbeth Community Garden.

About the Artist

Amy Ching-Yan Lam is an artist and writer. She has exhibited conceptual, film, and performance works internationally, both solo and as part of the collective Life of a Craphead. Her work approaches histories, personal and communal, via intuition and necessity. Lam will have a major solo exhibition at the Richmond Art Gallery, Canada, in 2023. Her poetry chapbook titled The Four Onions was published by yolkless press (2021) and her first full-length collection is forthcoming with Brick Books in 2023. She lives in Toronto (Canada), which is Mississauga Anishinaabeg territory. Lam was born in Hong Kong, which became a British colony as a result of the Opium Wars.

Website: eastsideprojects.org

Generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, High Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom, Arts Council England and The National Lottery Heritage Fund.