REVIEW: Have You Ever Been With An Asian Womxn? (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Jess Macdonald

[Seduction, Sex, and Shame: Sexuality Beyond the Skin]

A packed house waits in the Basement main stage space for the first performance of Gemishka Chetty and Aiwa Pooamorn’s Have You Ever Been With An Asian Womxn? which promises to ‘unleash a bold commentary on the hypersexualisation of pan-Asian womxn in pop culture.’ 

Audio plays on loop over the chatter as late-comers fill the seats, and as the lights dim we finally make out the soft tones of a satirical female welcome. The three main performers – Ellie Lim, newcomer Elaine Chun and Gemishka Chetty (shrouded in an opaque headscarf) sit with doe-eyes before the audience then request a gold-coin donation to make the ‘Mistress of Spice’ come alive. 

Gemishka performs a sexually charged spoken-word piece, aimed at the audience who desire her and her golden skin; the twist in her tone turns the spotlight on the voyeurs as she reveals her distaste over being reduced to something to tick off a list. 

The rest of the performance becomes lighter in tone, contrasting with this character-fuelled opening. As the vignettes continue, the performers settle into their stride – evidenced to perfection when they take on the personas of Pākehā porn addicts. The three ‘men’ acknowledge the need to stop obsessing with subservient stereotypes and using derogatory terms like ‘flipping the naan.’

The scene has the room filled with laughter, and the brevity continues as creator Aiwa arrives on stage in a projected video. She’s a Thai cam-girl, talking to her customer on video chat as she ‘performs a Thai-massage.’ She plays up the stereotypes in between bites of vegemite on toast – highlighting the irony between her taking on this Thai caricature.    

These moments contrast with the vulnerability of newcomer Elaine Chun, who sensitively talks about her upbringing and how she was taught to associate sex with shame. She articulates how she only realised through devising the play that they don’t have to be linked. Her empowerment leads to a dramatised foray into online dating, but she’s targeted with a barrage of comments – ‘I like your look, where are you from?’ and ‘You’ll know how to make me feel like a man.’ 

Through a spoken address, Ellie Lim explores what it means to be an Asian lesbian – and unsurprisingly, then graphically highlights how other lesbians don’t seem to have the same fetish as the heterosexual white man. Her relaxed, natural manner is a delight to watch as she explores this unique and rarely heard perspective.  

These personal viewpoints, and accompanying audio of reflective conversations between the performers, provide the back-bone of the piece. 

Gemishka’s revelation that she has had to hide the performance from her family moves me unexpectedly. I reflect on my identity as an Asian woman with mixed-race parents, thankful that I can use art to explore my sexuality without shame. I’d be surprised if the largely pan-Asian audience didn’t consider their own situations, as I did.    

Have You Ever Been With An Asian Womxn? is a humorous yet raw exploration of as four unapologetic Asian women reclaim their sexual identities and move out from behind the search terms. It will no doubt lead to many much-needed reflections from their eclectic audience, too. 

Have You Ever Been With An Asian Womxn? played at Basement Theatre as part of Auckland Fringe 28 to 29 February, 2020.

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