Mentorship of fresh talent a theme at Asian Aotearoa Arts Huì 2018

The Asian Aotearoa Arts Huì has evolved from a one-day hui to become a vital platform for Asian art practitioners in New Zealand. Visual artist, designer and educator Kerry Ann Lee talks about this year’s hui and why it’s the most ambitious to date.

The Asian Aotearoa Arts Huì (AAAH2018) is a public festival and national gathering celebrating diverse expressions of ‘Asianness’ in the Aotearoa arts scene.

It is a special opportunity to engage with themes of knowledge, encounter and visibility through exhibitions, talks and workshops by leading and emerging contemporary Asian-New Zealand creative practitioners.

The hui will profile established artists such as Alice Canton, Allan Xia, Ant Sang, Emma Ng, Louise Fong, Renee Liang, Simon Kaan, Vera Mey (London) and Yuk King Tan (Hong Kong).

Visual artist, designer and educator Kerry Ann Lee chats to the Asia Media Centre about the third AAAH, how it’s expanded and why it’s being celebrated in the Capital for the first time.

(Editors note: Huì is a play on the Māori word as well as the Chinese word for gathering.

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How did the Asian Aotearoa Arts Hui first come about?

Kerry Ann Lee: It started five years ago, in its first incarnation as the ‘Chinese Arts Hui’ in Auckland, organised by Kim Lowe, Simon Kaan and Kathryn Tsui. It was a chance to gather together, for the first time, as Chinese-New Zealand artists. There was a lot of discussion around who we are, what we want to know, and how we can work together. The scope of conversation was really large – what constitutes Asian-Aotearoa identity in the arts?

The one-day hui has since evolved into a festival taking place over a month. It is seen as a vital platform for Asian arts practitioners and the 2018 programme is the most ambitious to date. It’s taking place in Wellington this year.

The hui is open to the public and will engage interdisciplinary artists, art historians, curators, galleries, academics, institutions like Toi Poneke and Massey University, students, pan-Asian communities – and even Asian restaurants in Eat My Culture as site-specific venues for audience interactive art exhibitions.

Tell us about this year’s hui. Why Wellington?

The spirit of this year’s hui is about participation and engagement, and having established artists facilitating new emerging artists. There are opportunities for known artists to mentor across generations. This is evident with some of our international and established artists like Yuk King Tan (Hong Kong), Alison Wong (writer and Burns Fellow 2002) and Vera Mey (London). They’re very supportive of the kaupapa and have made themselves available to mentor.

Taking it to Wellington was a chance to move the conversations out of Auckland and share with the rest of the country, to introduce people that I’d been working with nationally to people working in Wellington. 

The hui will engender feelings of pride around coming together, but also a strong sense of criticality around ‘what this is?’ – because we haven’t had this legacy before. It’s important to question what this is, especially because it’s being driven by a Chinese-New Zealand perspective. We have had this history of being the oldest Asian community in Aotearoa. We’ve dominated in terms of other settler histories of Asian populations in New Zealand. It’s important to see how other voices and the spectrum of the Asian Aotearoa community can come through, to create space for them.

Chinese painting of kiwi birds

Artwork by Stan Chan courtesy of aaah.org.nz.

Does the work of pan-Asian artists need to be ‘politicised’ by their ethnicity?

Absolutely not. It was a question that came through with students: “Does our work need to be explicitly talking about Asian-New Zealand identity?” No. That needs to be challenged and questioned.

As far as what that means to us personally and collectively – we’ve constantly wrestled with the title. What do we mean by ‘Asian’, what do we mean by the ‘arts’? What are we capable of? What are our limits? We want to be transparent about that in conversations. These are frameworks that we build, but at the same time we are not bound by them.

There’ll be a conversation between Tame Iti and Alison Wong. How did they become involved?

Ati Teepa (Senior Kaupapa Māori Advisor, Centre of Contemporary Art) is also from Tuhoe and is family with Tame. When we talked about Asia-Pasifika connections for the ‘Chur’ dinner, he suggested inviting Tame.

Tame loves talking about his time in China during the 1970s. It’s a lesser-known fact that Tame holds that time dear to his heart, and it will be interesting to hear that in the context of the hui.

Alison Wong came up through her connections with Aotearoa and China. Through her writing and work, the idea of songs and poetic responses is a nice match. Having two esteemed presenters as part of the commencement dinner enriches the discourse of the hui.

Interview by Lynda Chanwai-Earle. 

– Asia Media Centre

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