In GO HOME CURRY MUNCHA, Aiwa Pooamorn and Gemishka Chetty confront the ethnic slur and the exoticism of food, race, gender, and body. Gayatri Adi and Janna Tay sat by a blue tarpaulin under a gazebo in the Basement Theatre carpark as the performers scattered spices, smashed pumpkins, and threw rice at whoever had the courage to come close…
Photos by Janna Tay
It began with an offering of prawn crackers. Pooamorn drew in the gathering crowd with a small bowl while Chetty lit agarbatti on an oval stand beneath garlands of marigold flowers. For us, these were markers of familiarity — an invitation, a sense of home. For Gayatri, seeing a part of her childhood, her culture that she’d hidden from white scrutiny displayed so boldly and unapologetically made her scared that the crowd would take offence. She had hidden away so much of her “Indian-ness” that she had taken on the eyes of the scrutiniser, self-policing something that should not need to be policed. And in this way — this bold and unapologetic way — it became, at the same time, a dare.
The two took turns performing poems on their own and together. They flung food at the audience and at one another as they wove in and out of the crowd, holding eye contact and coming close, face-to-face. Rice, cooked vermicelli, and turmeric flew around in the air, and a pumpkin cracking near our feet. The poetry was fearless, the product of pent-up rage and frustration handled with wit, humour, and searing imagery. As two women of colour, it was thrilling to see them bring to light what we personally experience, what we’d always struggled to find the words and courage to say. Hearing Chetty perform “My Vagina” was particularly powerful. Seeing a woman of colour speaking about her “vagina [that] bleeds” sent shivers down our spines, and made us feel proud to be in the presence of bold women of colour.
Halfway through, they transformed into rivals in a mock-Masterchef competition. They took on personas and called on volunteers to act as judges, ultimately disregarding the results as they argued between themselves. At times, the thread became difficult to follow — it felt a bit disjointed as they jumped from poem to skit to food fight, moving between a wide number of interrelated themes that ranged far beyond food. That might’ve been part of the goal to make the audience uncomfortable. However, a more focused structure would have honed the power of the poetry and the insanity of the skit to better deliver the intended message.
Like a dream gone sour, the two drew the audience in and turned on them, driving the message home that all it’d ever been was a dream. The exoticism, the hatred — these are all things that the white gaze imposes. Pooamorn and Chetty tore these constructs down, subverting them and casting them off, as Pooamorn discarded the purple silk robe of her Masterchef persona. At one point, the two instruct a white man to get to his hands and knees. The shock value of some of these moments brought back the awareness of scrutiny, of wondering what the white members in the audience would think.
But perhaps the question this poses is: why care? When have we ever been allowed to simply be without constantly watching our backs? There’s scope for this to be bigger and better, and hopefully that’ll be soon, on a bigger stage, with a bigger audience and stronger structure. Reclamation is a dish best served spiced and to the yells of, “Go home, fish and chip muncha!” For to see them elbows-deep in flour and turmeric, like the aftermath of an intensive cooking session, like being in the kitchen of a twenty-first-century aunty, was freeing. Go home, curry muncha? Sitting on the concrete in that carpark, it felt like maybe we already were.