Lee Seabrook-Suckling sits down with artist Ang Nayyar, commonly known as MrGeometric, to discuss the Asian-Kiwi stories exhibited at his new Auckland show Symbolically Kiwi.
What’s the most important thing in the world to Kiwis? According to New Zealand Indian artist Ang Nayyar, it’s “he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata”: the people, the people, the people.
Nayyar has curated the new interactive art exhibition Symbolically Kiwi, which opens in Auckland on 12 September in Silo Park. He’s the man behind MrGeometric, and is an artist that plays with shape and form in relation to humans.
“The purpose of Symbolically Kiwi is to share and celebrate Kiwi success stories, and show that while they’re really successful, if they can do it, then you can do it,” says Nayyar of his exhibition, which features the likes of former prime minister Helen Clark, musician Jess Bourke, and founder of Rocket Lab Peter Beck.
In order for the catchphrase “if they can do it, then you can do it” to be successful, any Kiwi needs to be able to be walk into that exhibition and feel like they’re being represented. For that reason, two Asian New Zealanders feature in Symbolically Kiwi.
“Obviously Asian voices and the Asian demographic in New Zealand is large, so I wanted to make sure that within these symbolic Kiwis we had representation for Asians,” Nayyar says, “It wasn’t really easy to do that. The same calibre of talent isn’t showcased as with white people; at least in the public sphere.”
The two Asian New Zealanders chosen for Symbolically Kiwi therefore set an important tone for other Kiwis like them. They’re achieving great things on the world’s stage, and showing that when they succeed, “we all succeed”, Nayyar explains.
First up is Michelle Dickinson. Half Hong Kong-Chinese, Dickinson is often known by her alter-ego Nanogirl. Dickinson is a nanotechnologist, science educator, and entrepreneur. She delivers her live science lessons to more than 100 countries, including being integrated with Cantonese and Mandarin. "She’s Chinese and she’s proud of her heritage there,” says Nayyar. Nanogirl’s live shows are also integrated with Te Reo and Arabic languages.
With a CV just as impressive, Ranjna Patel, founder and director of Tamaki Health and founder of health service Gandhi Nivas, is the other Asian Kiwi presented at Symbolically Kiwi. “Tamaki Health started off as GPs in Otara in the 1970s and is now more than 50 clinics. They built basically the largest private health practice in New Zealand. They serve about a million customers a year,” says Nayyar.
While Asian symbolism isn’t used in Dickinson’s part of the exhibition (though she does talk about her Hong Kong-Chinese heritage in the accompanying film), Indian symbolism can clearly be seen in Ranjna Patel’s story.
“What I’ve done is take her Tamaki Health logo and inserted that into what you’d see as a traditional lotus symbol, which is prevalent throughout Indian mythology and Indian symbolism,” says Nayyar. “You’ll see it in basically any mandala [a form of tapestry]. It is distinctively Indian and you can see that.”
Symbolically Kiwi is interactive: the public are allowed to pick up the shapes Nayyar has designed. “I didn’t want an exhibition where people could only come in and look at things. I wanted people to engage and think, ‘I could be this person’.”
Attendees are encouraged to wear black clothing to the exhibition. “With each of the shapes, people can pick them up, pose with them, and if you’re wearing black, then you’re wearing the same clothes at the person you idolise.”
Of course, you can take selfies with the shapes. “Now you have an artwork of yourself that’s the same symbolism, the same shape, the same clothes. You can think to yourself, ‘OK, if they can do it, I can do it’. Attendees can then print out finalised image of themselves on an A3 printer and take that home. “The idea is to spread positivity and inspire people. It will be great to see Asian Kiwis interacting with Ranjna’s one in particular and seeing Hindu and Indian symbolism all across social media.”
Nayyar notes, finally, that Symbolically Kiwi has been put together “almost entirely” by Kiwis of Asian background. “Myself, I’m Indian,” he says. “We have Hans Kim and Krishna Duddumpudi of Korea and India, respectively – they’re from Mass Design, our design and fabrication partners. And then Madusha Adasooriya from Exponential Labs is Sri Lankan and he’s taking care of all the marketing. This exhibition is being put together by Asians which is fantastic.”
- Asia Media Centre