By Noor Khwaja
VANCOUVER – In its second year, the Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts continues to spotlight South Asian talent in an industry where opportunities rarely escape from the realms of the Euro-centric model. The festival was founded by two theatre enthusiast, Rohit Chokhani and Gurpreet Sian, who both identified an unfair disconnect between the talent of South Asians in the community and their representation in the performing arts. As the largest minority group in Canada, it is alarming to see the lack of South Asian faces in the industry. Even when they are offered opportunities, their talents are “often tokenized and misunderstood.”
Speaking with Chokhani and Sian, they explain that the festival’s vision is to “create a space…for South Asian artists to perform in a manner of their choosing.” This space allows repressed forms of expression to thrive, highlighting “diverse backgrounds” and “unique methods of creation” which do not always have a place in our local mainstream arts culture.
One headlining performance of the festival, Burq Off!, is playing at the York Theatre on August 11 and 12. Nadia Manzoor’s one-woman show of impersonations perfectly embodies this year’s theme of eastern feminism and classical Indian art form. Featuring an autobiographical exploration of the clashing cultures of Pakistan and England, Manzoor bravely tells all. She explains that while similar ideas of cultural “yo-yoing” have been addressed in the past, it still feels “significant and fairly novel that a Muslim Pakistani woman is on stage…sharing her sex life, her confusion, her drug use” and more.
Burq Off! addresses deeply rooted issues of alienation from family culture when growing up in an environment with opposing views. Manzoor says that the play began as something that she expected to resonate with the South Asian women in her life. However, she understands now that “the universal themes of acceptance, loss and straddling between two worlds speak to many different people.”
While the internationally acclaimed Burq Off! is a highlight of the festival, Sian and Chokhani are also keen on promoting local talent, like the Hindi dance drama Malavika. There will also be free workshops around the city for artists of all skill levels to further develop their crafts.
The transposing value of South Asian performance is represented beautifully in the metaphor of rain. Monsoons in India, Sian and Chokhani explain, “take over the country on an annual basis…[causing] damage and destruction.” However, amidst the destruction is a festive surplus of “celebration including dance, music, theatre, and film.”
Similarly so, the rains of Vancouver create a mirrored environment, leaving room for a celebratory space that the Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts can artfully fill.
Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts runs at various locations in Vancouver and Surrey from August 6 – 13. Visit monsoonartsfest.ca for more information.Monsoon Festival