Living in a predominantly white country has made it easy to lose sight of the colours that different cultures have brought to Ireland from across the globe as queer People of Colour express their identities in beautiful ways, including performance, music and art. Al Fartukh spoke to a handful of queer Asian artists whose voices are becoming louder and more recognised with each of their artistic endeavours. They shared their influences, expressions and what it means for them to identify as queer and Asian.
Choy-Ping Clarke-Ng identifies as a non-binary half-Irish half-Hong Kong artist whose work focuses on theatre making and design. With two college degrees, including a Masters in Performance Design and several awards under their belt they have been expressing their talents in theatres across the globe, including Ireland, England and Singapore.
Although having grown up in Ireland, their Asian identity has very much influenced their work over the years, as they shared, “I frequently wonder if I had grown up in Hong Kong how it would be different. In Hong Kong I’m actually seen as really foreign because I’m mixed race, I don’t look fully Asian and I speak with a specific accent.”
Although they shared their pride in their Hong Kong and Irish identity they believe theatre in Ireland needs more diversity. “I think theatre has a long way to go in terms of representing people from these groups more accurately, especially Asian people. I just so rarely see Asian stories in theatre.”
Ping shared how this lack of representation made things complicated for them: “I just didn’t see myself as a director. You don’t often see people like me directing, especially in Dublin, it’s just something that I never imagined. I really wish I had got to see a few more people in the arts in Ireland.”
Despite this they believe their strength comes from the support of their friends and family: “I always say that I have an amazing group of friends and an amazing support network of people who really understand me.”
Ping shared the influences behind their most recent work Window A World, which they directed and designed. The show premiered as part of the recent Dublin Theatre Festival. “I was watching a lot of Gregg Araki films, who’s this amazing, queer, Japanese-American film director, and I was like, ‘Wow’. I just felt like there was a gap for something like that in Dublin.” When asked if their queer and Asian identity was the main focus for the project Ping replied, “I don’t think I set out for it to be a queer, ethnic story, it’s just that’s who I am. So it comes through in the work, how anyone’s background might influence them.” One theme Ping admitted they don’t see enough in theatre is friendship, “I just don’t feel is depicted enough. So I started thinking about my own friends and that was kind of where the story started.”
Ping is now trying to reconnect with a lot of hobbies they missed out on while being busy with their creative work, including their heritage. “As an adult I wanted to reconnect and learn more about Hong Kong and I feel it inspires my work more. For Window A World I wanted to work with somebody of Hong Kong descent, I want to perform it. Hansun was incredible, he’s amazing and I wanted to shape a story for that kind of person.”
And with that introduction from Ping, let’s focus now on Hansun Lamb - a young Cantonese queer artist born and raised in Ireland. His creativity flows through all sorts of mediums but his natural talents lie in the performing arts. Travelling between Ireland and Hong Kong throughout his life has strongly influenced his creative work. Previously establishing himself as a drag artist under the name Pluto, Hansun is now ready to experiment with performance in more ways than just drag. His performance in Window A World, directed by Choy-Ping Clarke-Ng, opened his eyes to the ever expanding possibilities of expression and he shared his new feelings of wonder with me.
“Window A World was kind of the perfect mix really. I was performing out of drag and also doing drag as well in the piece, which was interesting and something I’ve always wanted to do.” When reminiscing about the day Ping approached him to collaborate on the production, he shared, “Usually when somebody approaches me with an event or a gig it’s always drag, so to be able to kind of shed that was really, really cool.”
Hansun surprised the audience attending the theatre production - “It was the world’s best kept secret,” he explained. “I couldn’t tell any of my friends or any of my family. And then seeing them turn around and see me was honestly one of the best feelings ever. My parents came to see it and it was the first time they’d ever seen me in drag, it was a huge deal. The fact that they liked it as well was even crazier to me.”
Hansun shared his thoughts on his queer and Asian identity: “Being Asian isn’t necessarily the forefront of my art or why I do it. It’s just something that comes with it. The fact that I do drag, it came naturally but it’s considered a queer thing. I wasn’t doing it because I’m gay, it just kind of happened.” He expressed his thoughts on the drag community in Ireland: “I think I’m the only Asian drag queen really. I may know one other Asian drag artist in Ireland, but as far as I’m aware, I haven’t even met them. So in a way my Asian identity does influence my drag because I’m the only one.”
“Coming from an Asian family being queer is not accepted, and then growing up in a predominantly white culture being Asian wasn’t accepted when I was younger.” He believes his past experiences helped him “build a thick skin from a young age” which he doesn’t regret. “I think that because of that, I have this colourful personality and confidence that the average person doesn’t have because they haven’t faced those hardships. I’m honestly really grateful for that.” His final thoughts on his identity were phrased beautifully, “Being queer and Asian to me is being hyper feminine, unapologetic, confident, and courageous.”
Venus Patel is a half-Indian half-Hispanic performance artist and filmmaker who successfully blends absurdity and reality together to create visually stunning pieces and moving narratives. She recently won the top RDS Visual Art Award for her experimental short film, Eggshells, which touches on the issue of transphobia. With strong themes of being a queer Person Of Colour throughout her work, she shared more about what her identity means to her.
“I feel like my otherness has always been inherent to me ever since I was younger. The art that I make deals with a lot of this idea of otherness, and how myself, society and the others around me merge in this way.” She also expressed her feeling of pushing back against the cis heteronormative society we live in: “I’m allowed to explore this other side of the world that a lot of other people don’t or can’t see and I feel like there’s so much more colour and liveliness in that.”
Patel’s next project will involve illustrating a “queer reimagining of the end of the world” through public performance, playing a preacher-type character heavily influenced by Christianity and the ideals of Catholicism that she grew up with. “I’ll be preaching about the dissolution of the masculine versus feminine, the need for community and education of all identities as well, because I feel like that’s a really important thing.”
Venus expressed her thoughts on how the global pandemic created a split within the queer community. “I feel like that’s made Hate Crimes and a lot of things so much worse, because people have been so separated,” she explained. “So I feel like we need to be able to come together as a community somehow in some respect and value each other.”
Venus will have her award-winning short film playing at Pallas Projects as part of their Periodical Review from December 10 until January 28.
Kali Devi is a self-proclaimed “living, breathing Hindu deity” who dedicates her half-Indian half-Irish heritage to performance. Fitting into the community of drag she expresses her femininity, diversity and activism through singing and dancing on stage as she believes “drag is an act of rebellion against the binary.” With four years of performing as KALi DEVi she feels as though her art has become part of her personality rather than just a performance.
She explained, “I like to bring in the Indian aspects to the stage because there are not that many Indian drag queens in Ireland, so it’s nice to bring that” She learned about the artform from a previous partner where she “got attracted to the magic of performance and drag” and began to experiment with it herself. “I think there’s a certain amount of femininity that you’re comfortable with,” Kali admitted. “I’m still not comfortable wearing a lipstick while dressing masculine, but I know it’ll happen soon. It’s interesting that the more comfort you have with your feminine side then you are able to do new things makeup-wise.”
Looking back on her discovery of her queer identity she shared, “Because my dad was Roman Catholic and my mom was traditionally Hindu I had a hell of a time coming out. They’re fine with it now, but it took quite a few years for them to be okay with it.” She shared her overwhelming love of the Hindu and Indian culture, saying, “Whenever we would dress up for occasions, my sister would get all these cute, colourful saris. They were gorgeous and covered in crystals and whatnot, and I would get a plain white, tan dress, like a smock, for boys.” Kali explained how drag has helped her to reacquaint with that lost feeling from childhood, “with drag, I get to experience and feel all those feelings that I missed out on as a kid. So I’m just obsessed with it.”
In Kali’s eyes the ritual of dressing in her culture’s clothing is something magical, “It’s such a special and culturally significant moment of being wrapped, when it was like traditionally against my gender to do so. It took me a really long time to appreciate my culture, just because I grew up in the Western world.”
Kali explained that she doesn’t believe in cultural appropriation: “When I see any race like dressed up in Indian garb, such as saris, it makes me feel so fuzzy inside,” she expressed. “It’s so nice to see my love of my culture shared. I love to see Indian culture everywhere, especially when it comes to drag, I’m so glad that I’m able to be a part of it.”
Kali will be packing up her life in Ireland and continuing her adventures in Vietnam, and is excited to see their drag scene. Along with her next destination she shared her feelings about her personal growth, “I’m definitely maturing with performance. When I started off, I would be very focused on attention, likes and affirmations, and now it’s more for exploration of gender and culture for me.”