What: Satellites
Where & when: All over Auckland, until October

Chinese New Year celebrations may be drawing to a close, but the festivities continue to highlight the fact there is a growing interest in Asian culture and art.

That interest extends beyond the traditional and there are several Auckland-based contemporary Asian artists drawing on their culture to make new work. Held annually, Satellites is a series of public events and encounters – starting tonight – supported by Auckland Council and planned for venues across Auckland throughout the year.

Weekend caught up with some of the creatives behind the experiences to find out more about what they're making, what motivates them and the importance of culture in their lives.


K-Pop Party: Auckland Town Hall, tonight – part of the Auckland Fringe Arts Festival, featuring Rina Chae and her dance crew Street Candee, Jua, 603 Boogie Squad and Hanna Lee.
Rina, what is K-pop and why is it taking the world by storm?

K-pop is simply Korean pop…. but it's not just the music ... it's the visuals, the fandom, the imagery, the fashion, the dance moves, the storytelling, the personalities, the attention to every single detail - it's all-encompassing.

The level of training and competition involved to break through in the K-pop industry is so intense that any boy band, girl band or single artist you see internationally is at the very top of their game and has trained for years and years just to get there.

I think there's also an optimism to K-pop that is really appealing, especially in a world where things might not feel so optimistic elsewhere. It's not only the vibrant imagery, colours and messages but it's a great way to connect with people through singing and dancing at events like the K-pop party we're throwing.

•Returning for a school holiday season at the Bruce Mason Centre on October 12 and 13, Zoe and the K-Pop Kids will also be part of Satellites.

Feeling blue? The Mood Machine, which produces poetry and art to match the way you're feeling, may be for you.
Feeling blue? The Mood Machine, which produces poetry and art to match the way you're feeling, may be for you.

The Mood Machine: a machine that listens to the way you're feeling and then prescribes art to match? It's not something from the future but here and now and part of the Satellites programme, starting with an appearance at Q Theatre as part of next month's Auckland Arts Festival. Featured artists include Xun Cao, Vanessa Crofskey, Ana Iti, Gregory Kan and Chris Tse brought together by curators Emma Ng and Hera Lindsay Bird.

Emma, what did you look for when selecting artists to be featured in the Mood Machine? And what do you wish more people knew about Asian art in Aotearoa?

The Mood Machine demands moods. Each artwork has an emotional hook – whether it makes you blush, cry or giggle. But beyond that, each of the artists is young and has something to say. I hope visitors to the machine go away and look up the artists because they represent a deep ocean of local talent. It's exciting to look at the array of perspectives and experiences represented across these artworks and think that they all came from artists living and working in one small country.

I do wish more people knew about how far back the history of Asian art in Aotearoa goes; Sir George Grey was collecting Japanese prints in the 19th century, and what this says to me is that there have long been exchanges of ideas between cultures through art. Asian artists and our interest in them aren't a hot new thing but are part of our history here. We should celebrate the fact that the artists, collectors, and art-gallery goers of Aotearoa have always been connected and curious.

The Crystal Ball takes a glimpse into the future, bringing to life visions of what might be according to Auckland's younger residents.
The Crystal Ball takes a glimpse into the future, bringing to life visions of what might be according to Auckland's younger residents.

The Crystal Ball glimpses into the future, bringing to life visions of what might be. Visual effects artist Lakshman Anandanayagam and sonic and visual artist Suren Unka have worked with primary school pupils to develop these visions of the future. You'll be able to see them in Papatoetoe in June.

Lakshman, The Crystal Ball asks our city's children to imagine the world they are going to inherit. What kind of world do you hope for your children and what role do you think art plays in this?

I'm really looking forward to getting an insight into what kids actually think about this. For our children, I would hope for a world that is in a better state than it is now but that's looking unlikely.

The media is saturated with bad news and this has a numbing effect. I think art has an opportunity to present ideas in a different way - in a way that sits with you and maybe allows you to understand a different perspective better. Or it can transport you emotionally and mentally, allowing you to be able to cope better with reality on your return. At the very least, you might have an interesting experience for a minute or two.

My first memory of this kind was hearing the music of Bob Marley for the first time when I was 7 years old, during a turbulent time for my family. It made a bad situation bearable and when I thought about it when I was older, I was amazed that music had the ability to do that.

Jess Grandada is a food pioneer who's changing the way New Zealanders eat.
Jess Grandada is a food pioneer who's changing the way New Zealanders eat.

Nanam X The Cult Project, planned for May in Takapuna, offers a taste of our incredibly diverse – and still diversifying – food scene by bringing together chefs Carlo Buenaventura and William Cook and Jess Granada and Andrew Soriano, founders of Auckland's popular Filipino Nanam eatery. You'll learn how to make a traditional Filipino breakfast dish, share a meal with strangers, and hear intimate stories relating to the food being served.

Jess, how does food and eating connect you to your culture - and why is it so good at breaking down barriers?

Food, for me, does not exist just to satisfy a need. For me, food is an act of kindness and an act of connecting. I was always haunted by one question when I was starting to cook, which was: 'What can I contribute to this world of cooking?'

As a chef, I found that doing what I do without connecting to others - with my own history and family and culture - is not a job worth doing. Right now, owning Nanam and cooking is an unbound expression of Filipino cuisine. It gives me the freedom to paint by making my own dishes, to tell a story with every bite and to enjoy long hours. Food can really speak up and break down barriers without the cook saying a word because the energy of love and care a person puts into what they are making can never be faked.

Carlo: "Being born and raised Filipino, food has always been a huge part of my culture and personal history. Our food and the way we eat have helped me identify with my people and it's been a constant reminder of the connection I have with my family back home. Many of my fond memories growing up involved my family's cooking and being reminded of that taste somehow always takes me back to my roots.

Living in New Zealand for nine years, I've learned to look at food as a piece of evolving history that I try to keep up with. I see it as a way for me to keep myself updated with my culture and, through the globalisation of food, it has allowed me to connect to my original culture and my adopted culture in Aotearoa. The best part is that I am able to combine both cultures and help discover the person that I've become today.

Ahi Karunaharan plays movie maker in Kollywood Extra, part of Satellites.
Ahi Karunaharan plays movie maker in Kollywood Extra, part of Satellites.

Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood and Mollywood – they're all terms to describe the film industries of different South Asian centres. For Satellites, take an interactive and immersive journey into a fake film shoot which pays homage to Asian cinema. On this blockbuster-in-the-making, you might learn a dance move, meet a talent scout and even land a small role. Kollywood Extra, planned for May, is coordinated by theatre-maker Ahi Karunaharan.

Ahi, what excites you most about Asian New Zealand theatre at the moment?

I am excited by a generation of artists who are challenging the lack of representation in New Zealand and creating innovative and important works that make us feel seen. Companies such as Agaram, Prayas and Proudly Asian Theatre are creating and presenting relatable and responsive works that are intelligent, honest and human and speak to the urgency of the now.

I'm excited by the shift in the way we that we talk about diversity in theatre at the moment. The industry is starting to recognise that it is essential to give space to people of colour, to let us break that ground. To be seen. The Most Original Production award at the Auckland Theatre Awards for the last two years running has been picked up by works by Asian theatre-makers with various other Asian creatives being recognised and acknowledged for their artistic achievements.

Photographer Vinesh Kumaran is one of those participating in Digital Processes.
His exhibition, How Much Does This Cost?, is at the Māngere Arts Centre from April 13-June 15.

Vinesh, how does your art connect you with your culture - and why is that important to you?

I grew up in a family-owned-and-operated dairy where my dad (as well as me and my siblings) spent endless hours behind the shop counter. This meant at times we would miss out on family gatherings and social events. Working at the dairy gave me first-hand experience of the real cost of running a small business.

My interest in photographing business owners started as a continuation of a series of dairy owners I photographed in 2009 called Open All Hours. As a portrait photographer, I think it's important to connect with the person I'm photographing. I think knowing my culture and where I'm from is quite important in gaining someone's trust and breaking down barriers so that a person will allow you to take their portrait.

My solo exhibition How Much Does This Cost? is a celebration of the diversity and uniqueness of what Māngere Town Centre has to offer and features the rich variety of businesses operating here. It's an opportunity for people who would never otherwise enter a gallery space to come and see local people in the context of an exhibition. It's a chance for us to celebrate the contribution that a small business owner gives for the benefit of the wider community.