Diversity and Visibility in Burlesque, Cabaret & Pin-up
“A theatre, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance.” – Dario Fo
2019 started with a bang!
Over the last few months, I have spent much time reconnecting and remembering my Asian roots through my performance work and feel inspired to share some thought-provoking personal, political and cultural revelations.
In the UK right now, things are particularly unstable with Brexit uncertainties, although the country is not alone in this feeling. It seems like we are living in a time of deep divisions of ideology and diversity, where people are more and more entrenched in their differences. I feel the way forward is to push back against this, to embrace our differences and make a conscious effort to create and promote inclusion and a stronger sense of community.
Where can I fit into all of this in a meaningful way? Perhaps by returning to my roots and utilising the Chinese part of my identity, reflecting this outward in all my creative projects moving forward, and sharing my own unique background so that more people are aware of my personal history.
In order to unify this experience, I have been collaborating with artists from both similar and different cultural backgrounds. In our differences and experiences, we can discover common threads and shine a stronger light upon our diversity and uniqueness. It has been an eye-opening, heart warming and soulful experience so far…
In the earlier days of my burlesque career, I found fellow performers from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities few and far between. Finding people from a similar Asian background to myself was similarly difficult. I found that I could count the number of common threads in fellow performers on one hand!
From a production perspective, I found myself hired for ‘Asian’ themed performances. I often heard questions such as “Do you have a geisha act?” or “We’d love to have you but maybe for our Shanghai themed show later on in the year.” It felt frustrating that I would be narrowly classified in traditional or classic themed shows of this manner. I was forced to fit into other people’s expectations of what ‘Asian Authenticity’ was – from the clichéd, clouded lenses of popular Asian cultural tropes. However, from a personal perspective, my own diverse acts and thematic looks are not constricted to this traditional window, which puts myself at odds for the ‘popular’ perspective of Asian artists of this nature.
I was reminded of two brilliantly written articles that I was featured in; I want to share this again because it reminds us of the history and I want to amplify the voices of performers of colour who have made many waves in our contemporary burlesque communities:
It’s interesting to re-read what was quoted from me in 2013 –
“It’s not like we don’t exist but I guess it’s more about lack of visibility. East Asian performers are out there but maybe we don’t get booked for the major shows and are less likely to be booked as the headliner. Maybe there are more East Asian performers in the UK but I don’t actually know any outside of London. If they do exist that’s awesome, but I can’t think of who they are as they’re not in the public’s eye.”
Well, thank goodness this has changed and is continuing to change on a larger scale.
As a performer and model who chooses to be seen in high profile/exposure events, I think it is important to represent and give voice to fellow community members that may not share the same platform and show that it is okay to express yourself and embrace your authenticity outside of the framework of how other people might expect you to be.
There should be no limitations or expectations about how Asian performers choose to reveal their cultural or ethnic backgrounds through their art.
So, here’s what’s been happening…
In January 2019, I was asked to model for The Vintage Woman Magazine, A Vintage Online Lifestyle Bible coming in May 2019.
Here is a behind the scenes shot of me modelling with the beautiful Miss Eva Leigh in original vintage swimwear!
I believe this feeds into my earlier message as this platform potentially offers a new avenue of wide visibility, whilst being created by a powerful team of inspirational women whose mission is to promote diversity, inclusivity and intersectionality.
It was around this time that I noticed that many of my images had also been re-posted by the ever growing popular Instagram accounts: @pinupsofcolour and @asianpinupgirls which has now become @asianpinupgirls2. These accounts are reflecting and remembering vintage pin-up beauties of the past to ensure their legacy continues whilst promoting and sharing the talents of up and coming contemporary artists.
Within the same month, I was also asked to join The Bitten Peach, London’s Pan Asian Cabaret Collective made up of burlesque, cabaret and drag artists. Created by Lilly Snatchdragon, Shay Shay and Evelyn Carnate, this collective is about representing the diversity and talents within the Asian community and bringing everyone together because we are stronger together. Yes, we have been taking London by storm!
We did a group shoot with the amazing Corrine Cumming and in the first quarter of the year, we were featured on the cover of QX Magazine, a popular LGBTQ magazine widely read in London and the UK. Featured on the cover alongside me are Lilly Snatchdragon, Shay Shay, Evelyn Carnate, Sigi Moonlight, Mahatma Khandi, Aurora Starr and Jason Kwan.
During this period, The Bitten Peach produced a handful of sold-out shows showcasing the diversity of Asian talent. The shows that featured in the launch of this collective over the Lunar New Year period showcased the unique narratives, new creative expressions and multi-faceted identities within Asian culture.
This enabled me to connect and collaborate with new people from our growing creative community, which in turn, gave us a platform to create and expand in the public forum.
I find it important to create new and stimulating concepts that allow me to push the boundaries away from those restrictive realms, in the hope that Asian performers can be seen in diverse communities and environments where a fresh take can be absorbed and thought about in different spaces – both in one’s mindset and performance arenas.
All this is to say that things are moving forward from my early experiences in the creative arts. I see common threads and a growing community of like-minded individuals moving the narrative forward and breaking the mould of what is acceptable for ‘traditional’ Asian themed acts. From my own dessert-themed acts that I have been working on since my debut of this last year, to new creative projects and photo shoots that will come to fruition in 2019, and more upcoming shows with this refreshing collective known as The Bitten Peach – my hope is that we are creating empowerment and a sense of creative excitement within the Asian community for many years to come!
“Naughty Dragon Boa Dance” – Photographer: Corrine Cumming