Passive Performance As Multiculturalism. (In New Zealand) Part 2.

In part one of this blog I introduced my argument and quoted Milton Fisk. Multiculturalism in New Zealand is based on a neoliberal model that recognises diversity but does not allow it flow over into the mainstream because that upsets the economic structure and global expression of the same. I used as a starting point an article by Henry Johnson and Guil Figgins that: (a)Examines the re-contextualization and transformation of Diwali in New Zealand with emphasis on performance (b) Explores the role that various organisations have and looks at (c) The ways in which performances are expressions of self-identity and part of a process of place-making.

Re-contextualization/Tranformation:

The paper says Diwali Downunder is a secular affair that is recontextualised and transformed into a celebration.

Diwali, as celebrated in India, is a family affair. However it is still public in a way because the entire country celebrates it according to region and community. So it is a public-private affair. There is no place for communal performance of any kind especially Bollywood. The ‘transformation’ cannot be called secular because the very nature of the festival excludes non-Hindu South Asians-it is a Hindu festival within a ‘homogenous’ space as per organisers. Perhaps because India is a larger economy than other South Asian countries? In my film Jennifer King says that since the Chinese Lantern Festival was successful, they decided on Diwali. (So a non-religious Chinese festival is the same as a deeply religious Hindu festival?) Then the very nature of this does not offer any scope for re-contextualization. My questions:

  • Is a publicly celebrated foreign festival a true transformation when the space is predetermined by government organisations?
  • How can a culture be re-contextualized in that same space which only seeks passive participation from the local Indian community?
  • Isnt the otherness endorsed by the same and then to maintain that because it is about replicating and imitating from back home and that becomes representation.
  • You need local creatives to re-contextualize. Where are the local artists?
  • Why has Jacob Rajan never performed at Diwali?
  • Name one creative who has come out of this transformed/re-contextualized space to breakout on to the national stage?

Organisations and events:

The paper says that the role of the organisations is positive and Asia:NZ’s role (then known as Asia 2000) contributes towards developing visibility.

To a certain extent that is true but what has the role of Asia:NZ to develop visibility of the Indian community got to do with social integration? Asia:NZ Foundation was established in 1994 by the Jenny Shipley government (National) to help develop better economic ties with Asian countries. On 7/11/2004, the tenth anniversary of Asia:NZ, Phil Goff (Labour), then in government, said in a speech in Parliament Ten years ago, New Zealand had embarked on a policy of active engagement with Asian economies. We had expanded our ties with Asian countries on a number of fronts politically, economically and diplomatically. …”

When you have economic benefit as your core ojective then culture has to be shaped and presented accordingly. Diversity becomes a commodity instead of a value.

Then organisations develop mutually beneficial MOUs such as with Auckland City Council.

Self-identity and Place-making:

Expression of self identity means taking charge of who you are. Culturally, ethnically and in the present. It means challenging notions of being the ‘other’ to oneself and to the mainstream. That goes beyond recognition. It is about equality.

  • Expression of self identity is a form of resistance and that is anathema to neo-liberal multiculturalism. The Indian identity here is shaped within the context of Diwali-exotic and different. But equal?

Placemaking comes from telling stories by owning a place and you own a place by actively participating in the place/space. There is only passive participation in the Diwali Mela.

  • Real place-making can happen only when the past is not sought to be fossilised in the present. It is different from cultural maintenance.

Indian culture then does not spill into, flow into and mix with other cultures or even the mainstream. How then can social issues be addressed?

What multiculturalism then?

It is clear from the current neoliberal model of multiculturalism in New Zealand that migrants and their diversity are recognised for economic benefits. The inference in my film is the same. “Food, footfalls and festivals for cultural consumption…my identity reduced to song and dance to satisfy the stakeholders…” Here the stakeholders are the organisers and sponsors. The Indian community is clearly not perceived as a stakeholder in an active, participatory, decision-making manner except to please them about their presence and numbers at an annual Diwali Mela. As if seeing others like yourself once a year in masses is reassuring of your place and space in New Zealand.

I do not have a clear cut answer to which model of multiculturalism New Zealand should seek. It is a matter of korero, dialogue.

Milton Fisk: The cultural view of recognition stays within the bounds of neoliberalism. the social view of recognition does not counterpose recognition and equality; instead, it makes equality a vital part of recognition.

Amartya Sen: 1-Promote diversity as a value in itself. 2-Focus on the freedom of reasoning and decision-making positively supported through social opportunities.(Identity And Violence The Illusion Of Destiny. Sen, Amartya. Allen Lane-Penguin Books, 2006.)

Tariq Modood:1-Socio-economic opportunities and outcomes. 2-Socio-cultural mixing. 3Civic participation and belonging (Open Democracy blog)

New Zealand is unique because we have the Treaty Of Waitangi that no other country in this world has. Any form of multiculturalism cannot be propagated without involving tangata whenua. How does the Diwali Mela create a dialogue with Maori? What is the place of migrants as tau iwi? If migrant culture is seen as economically viable to sell the idea of New Zealand as blissfully diverse, to tell India and China that their people are loved here so let’s get on with the FTA, then Maori will become invisible to migrants. That would be perilous.

And after all this, I must make clear that I am not against the Bollywood dance competition or Diwali. It is the implementation and institutionalisation that is problematic. Besides, the Indian community in New Zealand, the youth need to take charge of their identity. Not just as ‘Indians’ but as New Zealanders. They need to question their space here. Merely doing an anti-Paul Henry dance at Diwali does not stop the racism. Neither is it resistance.

2 thoughts on “Passive Performance As Multiculturalism. (In New Zealand) Part 2.

  1. Pingback: Queering The Superficial Multiculturalism Of Aotearoa New Zealand. | DrSapna

  2. Pingback: Be The Change | DrSapna

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