BY MARIE YSABEL LANDINGIN

Right in the heart of Auckland – often celebrated as New Zealand’s multi-cultural centrepiece – is a loud and unapologetic call to get real. From Friday 1st March, as part of Auckland Fringe Festival, two Asian poets are ready to throw spices, cinnamon sticks, and uncomfortable truths in people’s faces to wake us up to the reality that our culturally diverse society still has a long way to go.

Go Home Curry Muncha is an unconventional performance devised by Gemishka Chetty and Aiwa Pooamorn. “It’s about decolonising MasterChef,” Pooamorn explains. The duo found that there was something not quite right about MasterChef’s all-white male panel of judges telling Asian chefs how to cook their cuisine better. “It’s not only about MasterChef”, Chetty notes. “It’s also about everyday racism….we also explore feminism from an Asian woman’s perspective.”

“In a not-so preachy way, but in a more fun way,” Pooamorn adds with a laugh.

“Why?” I ask, going into the reason behind their show. “Going to a predominantly white school and being one of the few Indian girls,” Chetty explains. “When I brought banana curry sandwiches to school, it made me uncomfortable. But when I look back at it, why should I feel uncomfortable?”

“I’d never been to a predominantly white country before,” Pooamorn explains. “So that was a real shock for me. I have to adapt to living… get used to white culture and what they think of my own culture and when I cook my food.”

Our conversation continues on, as each memory, emotion and thought unravels the intertwined messages of Go Home Curry Muncha. “They’d mock us at school. Now they wear our bindis at Coachella. That’s problematic,” Chetty explains, alluding to the double standards migrants face.

It’s also about reclaiming identity and confronting the grey area between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. Pooamorn mentions the rise of restaurants in New Zealand charging high prices for “the poor migrant’s aesthetic”. It trivialises people’s lives. “Cultural appropriation is simply making a profit out of it”, Chetty explains. “It doesn’t educate people about cultures. It doesn’t celebrate it. It exploits culture….there isn’t a lot of thought that comes from that.”

But it all delved deeper than food. Chetty explains that “it goes from food to clothes to bindi-wearing to henna… people don’t understand the meaning…..unfortunately it keeps the ignorance up.” Pooamorn continues, “they want to take our food, but they don’t want us here. There’s a sense of entitlement.” Chetty goes on to draw connections to the controversial Gucci sweater. “How could it have gone down so many lines and people say that it’s okay? It shows that there aren’t that many people of colour or that background in those positions of power to say something. It’s a reflection of how much further we have to progress.”

But is there actually a problem? Perhaps the issue of racism isn’t as widespread as some may be inclined to think. Especially in the context of Auckland; an increasingly cosmopolitan city set to be a ‘superdiverse’ city in the near future.

“I think we’re good at the first step, but not the second step”, Chetty suggests. “We’re good at providing opportunities and spaces and festivals, like Diwali. That’s definitely a celebration of the diversity that we have…..we’re good at putting on a facade that everything is going right. But there still needs to be a little more attention. A little more opportunity and discussion. A little more representation.”

There is a need for open dialogue. “It’s about addressing it and bringing people and having conversation, rather than being afraid”, Chetty offered. “I think we need to include a lot more people in the narrative of Kiwi culture and the history of it. Because we only really talk about the white Europeans and, yes, Maori; but even then they don’t get enough representation and justice. So we need to include everyone now who is in the narrative. There are so many narratives… ‘Kiwi-Filipino.’‘Kiwi-Indian.’ ‘Kiwi-Chinese.’”  

“And we’ve been here for so many years. That’s the thing that gets me. We’ve been here since the 1800s. We didn’t just arrive yesterday. Just because now… we’re being more vocal.”

When asked why deal with societal and political issues through the arts, Chetty enthusiastically answers, “For me, it’s empathy. Empathy is the best way to have conversation. It brings people together in a way that’s about human emotion and connection. In the end of the day, we are all human […] If we can’t connect with each other then we can’t live together.”  

“We feel a lot of feelings”, Chetty continues. “To be able to project that in a way that’s more about emotion helps bring the dialogue to a more accessible level. This is about accessibility and making everyone able to come to the show and witness our story. It leaves room to be not so black and white when you do art. It’s open to interpretation. It’s all about how you interpret a show as well. That invites more conversation.”

“Art is more approachable”, Pooamorn adds. “When we use genres like comedy, we can bring people together….so people feel more open to approaching us, rather than being scared of us.”

Unconventional and open to all – migrant, ethnic minority, or not – is the message of Go Home Curry Muncha. “We’re not putting on a theatre show,” Chetty points out. “We’re putting on a cultural experience. Something that people can have fun with and be entertained by, but also go away thinking about things they’ve never thought of before.”

“And we’re sharing personal stories. Not fake, abstract, bougie concepts”, Pooamorn adds.

“We’re bringing it back to the grassroots level of storytelling”, Chetty continues. “So if you don’t go to theatre, come to our show because it’s unlike theatre.” Oh, and it’s going to be in a car park.

We’re amid a time and place of cultural change, where open conversations need to happen, and as Chetty simply puts it, “just come with an open mind”.

 

Auckland Fringe Festival 19 February – 3 March 2019.

Go Home Curry Muncha

Directors and cast: Aiwa Pooamorn and Gemishka Chetty.

Basement Theatre (carpark), Friday 1st March and Saturday 2nd March at 8pm.

Koha entry.

More info here.

MARIE YSABEL LANDINGIN is known by many names, from childhood nicknames to a certain tropical fruit. Has a massive list of things to do, but should probably get some sleep first. An open-minded urban planning student aspiring to somehow change the world for the better.

Keen for more? Check out Marie’s work:

The Upside: 60 Good News Stories We Missed in 2018

Save Our Gallery: Art and People Power

Buckle Up: Your Survival Guide to the First Year Uni Rollercoaster

 

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