On paper, Dirty Passports is a collection and celebration of the best BIPOC storytellers and spoken word artists in Aotearoa. As it transpired, it was an emotional rollercoaster. According to curator and performer Nathan Joe (2020 National Poetry Slam Champion), performers are free to express themselves without expectation of what “minority” writing “should” sound or look like.
Alongside Nathan, the line up included Aiwa Pooamorn and Gemishka Chetty, Samuel Te Kani, Jai Selkirk, and Takunda Muzondiwa. MC Manu Vaea and musician Kenji Iwamitsu-Holdaway (Yoko-Zuna) were the icing on the cake, performers in their own right.
Dirty Passports gave the intersectional vibes I have been (and always am) craving — decolonisation, queerness, feminist agendas… I wasn’t left wanting on any fronts.
There is an irreverence towards tropes and taboo; colonisation and racism shared the stage with the recent ship-tuation in the Suez Canal and Christchurch blokes. The performers deal equally in light one-liners, intergenerational trauma, and memes.
In line with the nature of the show, I’ve processed and responded along these themes:
QUEER IN CHRISTCHURCH, RACISM, THE ARTS AS ESSENTIAL
Nathan Joe (Chinese)
All I can say for being queer in Christchurch is that it seems to involve a lot of cute white boy / bloke energy and drinking Double Brown.
Nathan’s second poem was “actually for white people”, he joked as a couple was slinking in late. Then, tongue in cheek: “You’re white people at the Basement though, so it’s not for you.” He dropped in a little barb about the Treaty [of Waitangi]’s “misinterpreted sovereignty” which I thought was a nice touch.
In the wake of Auckland’s many lockdowns, his final piece was a critique of the inevitable and pernicious question of whether the arts are “essential”. How do those in power assign value? Distribute funding? Why pit artists against minimum wage workers? Are the arts essential? Nathan shows us art is essence, something closer to our survival than we think.
ASIAN FEMINISTS, EMPOWERED AND ASKING FOR MORE
Aiwa (Thai-Chinese) and Gemishka (South African-Indian)
Aiwa was powerful in front of the Basement crowd, just as she was on stage at the Stop Asian Hate march last week. “I’m mama Aiwa,” she chanted, listing through tropes about motherhood and her white husband.
Gemishka breezily flipped through a magazine, mimed reading tips for diaspora children from its glossy pages. Gossip to distract Aunty from asking when you’ll get married, navigate complicated relationships with parents. Look for yourself on social media, find people who reflect the complex and shape-shifting nature of being a diaspora child.
Their final joint performance was an earnest articulation of their deepest desires, including but not limited to: demands for better leadership from Jacinda Ardern, to stop performing emotional labour for white people, and to be able to dream in Thai.
“POETRY IS A EUPHEMISM FOR: MY YOUTH IS MISSING”
Jai Selkirk (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua)
When Jai speaks, it is raw. Silence stretches across the room, tight as a rubber band. I was in tears before his first piece was over. The tension broke for mere moments when he paused to remember the next line, audiences clicking to fill the space. He checked his phone. “Oh fair enough, fair enough, fair enough,” he said, smiling while gentle laughter scattered through the room.
Straight back into it. “All the drive in the world and I still missed the destination,” he continued, an ode to the high viz skin he wears and the physical toll of labour on brown bodies.
“I had to ask my own skin for forgiveness / ’cause
This is what I thought I wanted but it wasn’t,” he repeated threefold.
ORGIES, SETH ROGEN, BOMBS
Samuel Te Kani (Ngāpuhi)
The archetypal writer, Samuel prefaces his set with a disclaimer and a bashful smile: “If it sounds overwritten… it’s better in print”.
First up was a frenzied, mic-clutching monologue about how “I want everyone to be fucking”. It really was everyone — hot people at the supermarket, landlords and property managers, the person at his job interview, the barista messing up his oat milk. No one ought be spared from the wave of copulation.
The juxtaposition of the mundane with the obscene was potent. I can’t look at the supermarket self scan in the same way, or see Sharon and Dave walking their dog in Ponsonby without seeing sex flash mobs and bodies writhing in the streets.
Honestly after that it was hard to focus but there was some powerful content which began with sex dreams of Seth Rogen, taking an exploratory journey through the mountains and valleys of intimacy, and ending with surprisingly detailed instructions on how to make a bomb, becoming a vigilante, and me now hoping that writing this doesn’t get me on some list.
“BLACKNESS ENTERS THE ROOM WITH NO SOUND”
Takunda Muzondiwa (African) — 2020 Auckland Poetry Slam Champion
With powerful, graceful movements, Takunda talked about Black bodies being perceived before voices were heard.
Then, about Black queer bodies under attack, with homophobia another import of colonisation. “When immigrant homes turn against queer children we begin a second migration.”
Takunda digs deep with her audience, deconstructing media narratives justifying colonisation. Black healers are “witch doctors”, tied to mythology. “Modernising” is more like “looting and then apologising.”
With lived experience rooted in her homeland of Zimbabwe, Takunda brings a unique perspective — how the impacts of globalisation and colonisation have played out in Africa. She also exuded optimism, spoke about shared experience being a bridge of connection, and hugged her friend in the audience as applause closed off her final piece.
In amongst it all, Manu beautifully held both us and space between each emotionally charged performance. They had multiple roles: palate cleanser, hype team, disruptor of phallic structures.
There were really uncomfortable moments. Some by design, some as casual and fleeting as Manu mentioning that being with white men meant their ancestors were probably rolling in their graves. More than one POC sitting around me laughed knowingly, guiltily.
Above all, it is a solid hour of indigenous, black, Asian, queer humans standing in their power and tearing up the status quo.