East Meets West in Wellington

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of Wellington’s Chinese New Year Festival, the three women who founded the festival reflect on its early days and talk about the significance of perennial festival favourite East Meets West. The Foundation provided the Asian Events Trust with an Arts Project grant to stage the performance.
A performer leaning against a mirror

East Meets West brings local professional, community and international artists together to perform

The festival was founded in 2001 by Linda Lim, Stephannie Tims and Rita Tom. Their vision came out of the desire to give their children the opportunity to experience and celebrate their heritage and culture in a New Zealand context. They didn’t quite imagine the festival taking off as it did. “Our home-made go-kart turned into a modern day bullet train,” said Lim, Chair of the Asian Events Trust (AET) and festival programme manager.

Over the years the festival has gone through many developments and iterations, but one mainstay and most beloved portion of the festival is the East Meets West show. East Meets West is a rich cultural experience set in a contemporary context with local professional, community and international artists coming together to draw strength from cultural exchange and collaboration in contemporary performing and visual arts.

The show forms a key part of AET’s strategy to develop new audiences for the festival by providing opportunities for the wider community to access high quality contemporary arts experiences. It also provides a platform to strengthen and support local emerging and professional contemporary artists by making their work accessible to mainstream audiences that they may not otherwise reach.

“We have been blown away by the thirst of our audiences to experience Chinese contemporary performing arts,” says Lim.

“Support from the Asia New Zealand Foundation has been vital to making the show accessible to mainstream audiences. The Chinese culture is dynamic and rich and the festival provides an important platform to showcase the work of the many talented performing artists in our community, beyond that of lions, dragons and Beijing Opera.”

The 2020 Festival East Meets West programme will draw special inspiration from visual artist, Guy Ngan.

Appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to the arts in 1983, Guy’s expansive practice included sculpture, architecture, painting, printmaking and public art commissions.

Much of his visual work is marked by his use of bold colours, with which the East Meets West show took inspiration from to highlight the significance of colour to the Chinese culture.

Guy’s daughter, Liz Ngan, explains: “Guy’s heritage was his compass. He returned to China in 1977 — the first time back since leaving during the Sino-Japanese War in 1938.

"It was important for him to see his family again as well as to travel with friends to cultural and historical wonders he had read of but never seen.

"Out of this, and subsequent visits, he painted, drew and sculpted forms to express what he had seen and felt. Artworks from the 1977 trip mirror his relief and celebration that China had pulled herself through some very hard times and was beginning to prosper.”

Guy Ngan sitting in front of East Meets West imagery

This year's East Meets West performance is inspired by the life of visual artist Guy Ngan

Guy sadly passed away in June 2017.  The 2020 East Meets West programme sets out to acknowledge Guy’s significant contribution to Aotearoa’s cultural and creative landscape, as well as highlight the power of finding common ground in art. 

“As a family, we feel proud and honoured that Guy’s works continue to be enjoyed by so many people and are still contributing to Wellington’s cultural life," says Ngan

"To Guy, art was a living thing. Just as he found inspiration in his culture and the art he studied and admired, he would be pleased that his own art might inspire others in their creativity.” 

The festival has entrenched itself in Wellington’s cultural fabric as a way for people to come together, to share, learn and understand. Bringing together cultures, art forms and acknowledging the people within the community is what drives and sustains the festival. Reaching its 20th year is a true milestone and there doesn’t appear to be any desire to stop among the AET ranks.