Simon Draper's October 2022 update

The past couple of weeks have felt like a bit of a turning point here at the Asia New Zealand Foundation, with an array of domestic events and a sense of renewed energy in New Zealand-Asia relationships.
Daniel Belton holding a microphone to adress the room

The reunion was a chance for artists to connect and discuss issues facing the arts sector

A key event for the Foundation was our Arts Reunion in Auckland, which had been rescheduled twice. It was a chance for us to reconnect with some of the arts practitioners we’ve supported over the years, and for them to connect and reconnect with each other.

The arts programme is one of the oldest we have at the Foundation. Over more than two decades, it has helped hundreds of artists grow their understanding of Asia and Asian arts, and produce Asia-informed works for New Zealand audiences. Through the likes of our arts residencies and curators and programmers tours, the arts programme has also helped arts practitioners develop their networks in the region.

We invest in the arts because they have an incomparable ability to inspire interest and transform perceptions of Asia amongst New Zealanders – work that we see as even more important as we look ahead.

People chatting

The reunion was a chance for the artists to reconnect with the Foundation and each other

At the reunion, we heard from some of the artists who created the IN TOUCH Arts Commissions – short digital art works created with the express purpose of sharing them on digital media. The Foundation introduced the IN TOUCH commissions in 2020 to provide a way for artists to produce works connecting New Zealand with Asia amid Covid-induced barriers.

We also heard from the Foundation’s senior research adviser Jordan King, who spoke about some of the early findings from a research report looking at cultural connections between Aotearoa and Asia. Jordan also facilitated a discussion with the arts practitioners, inviting them to share perspectives and provide ideas to contribute to the research, which will be published next year next year.

Director arts Craig Cooper with 'Chalk it Up' competition winner Gowri Sathish (and her VIP assistant).

Diwali Festival of Lights

We also welcomed the return to Aotea Square of Auckland’s Diwali Festival which, like so many large-scale public festivals, had been disrupted the past couple of years due to Covid. The Foundation is a founding partner of Auckland Diwali, having been there since the festival’s outset in 2002.

Of course, Diwali had been celebrated in New Zealand homes for many decades before that. But the public festivals – not only in Auckland but right around the country – have grown to become outstanding celebrations of Indian culture and an amazing way for New Zealanders to gain insight into this fascinating part of the world.  

I was scheduled to speak at the festival’s opening but unfortunately was laid low with a flu (not the flu) over the weekend, but the Foundation was very well-represented by our director arts Craig Cooper, who also judged the “Chalk it Up” rangoli competition. Overall, it was a big week for the India-New Zealand relationship, with India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in the country, the first official visit by an Indian Foreign Minister in two decades. The Minister shared his perspectives on the New Zealand-India relationship, and on India’s trajectory in an interview with our Asia Media Centre.

Otago History Hui

A group of Leadership Network members at the historic Chinese camp in Arrowtown listening to a man talking

Otago History Hui participants visiting the historic Chinese village in Arrowtown

At the other end of the country, one most anticipated events on the Leadership Network’s calendar took place. Fifteen members of the network travelled to Otago to learn about the history of the Chinese living in the region.

The group visited historic sites, heard from local historians and members of the Chinese community about their own experiences, and learned about the lives of early Chinese settlers who arrived in the 19th century.

The idea behind the hui is based around the premise that we need to understand our past in order to understand where we are today, and to inform our future. It’s the second time we have run the hui, which was created as a way to help Leadership Network members grow their knowledge of Asia-New Zealand relations while travel to Asia was constrained.

From all accounts, it was a fascinating and often moving experience for those who attended. It attracted local media attention; and keep an eye on the Foundation’s website for reflections from participants.

Seriously Asia Revisited

Findings from the hui will form the basis of a roadmap for how NZ can best progress its relationships in Asia over coming years

The Foundation has also held its fourth and final Seriously Asia Revisited hui. The Queenstown hui focused on innovation and sustainable development – two areas where New Zealand can both offer a lot and learn a lot from Asia. 

I won’t go into too much detail about the hui as you can read all about it here, but I would like to thank everyone who has taken part in the four hui over the past two months and contributed towards this important programme of work.

While each of the hui had specific areas of focus, a number of recurring themes came through and these will form the basis of our roadmap and recommendations for how New Zealand can best progress its relationships and connections in Asia over coming years.

Mā te wā, 

Simon Draper