Bridging Cultures: The Rising Tide of Asian Arts in New Zealand

In a significant cultural development, a new report has highlighted an increasing appetite among New Zealanders for Asian arts and cultural experiences. Commissioned by the Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono, the report titled New Waves: Meeting the Growing Hunger for Asian Art in Aotearoa, penned by Rosabel Tan, delves into the burgeoning interest and outlines a series of recommendations to foster deeper connections and understanding between New Zealand and Asia through the arts.

The new arts research was officially launched on March 6 at Tāmaki Makaurau during the PANNZ Arts Market, headed by Craig Cooper. Photo: Kirsty Sharp.

The report emerges against the backdrop of a global cultural shift, where Asian artistic expressions, ranging from K-Pop to Anime and Bollywood, are not just gaining international acclaim but are also resonating with New Zealand audiences. Such shift marks a significant opportunity for New Zealand to integrate these cultural forms into its own creative landscape, enriching societal and cultural dialogues.

Suzannah Jessep, Chief Executive of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, underscores the organisation's three-decade commitment to deepening the knowledge and connections between New Zealand and Asia. The New Waves report offers unique insights into New Zealand's changing relations with and in Asia through the arts, and how those relations are transforming the creative landscape within New Zealand.

"Over the past three decades, artists from Asia have gone from being considered 'niche' to global trend setters. These artists are setting the pace of global pop culture while also delivering important social commentary that demands our attention," Jessep said. 

Highlighting the report's findings, Craig Cooper, Director of Arts at the Foundation, points out the growing, yet unmet, demand for Asian art in New Zealand. 

The report suggests a significant gap between the interest of New Zealanders in Asian arts and the current availability of such cultural offerings.

The report reveals that in 2020, Asian arts constituted 23 percent of the cultural market, equating to approximately 890,000 individuals in Aotearoa who showed interest in exploring Asian arts for the first time. A significant portion of this demographic is located in the Auckland region.

Further analysis indicates that this unexplored potential covers all forms of Asian art, with visual arts representing the biggest untapped segment, closely followed by performing arts.

À Ố Làng Phố Tuấn Lê. Presented as part of Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki Auckland Arts Festival, Aotearoa, 2018. Image: New Waves report.

To bridge this gap, the report proposes actionable recommendations for policymakers and art institutions alike, emphasising the need for investment in intercultural fluency, strategic incubators for Aotearoa-specific work, and accessible platforms for engaging with Asian art and culture.

Cooper notes, "I often hear about hesitancy within our arts sector to run exhibitions or events that focus primarily on art or entertainment from Asia. Programmers fear such events will not generate sufficient local interest or resonate with their usual audiences. This report shows the opposite is true, New Zealanders throughout the motu are eager to engage with Asian Art in a wide variety of forms."

He also hopes that this new report will address the concerns of arts practitioners who want to participate in Asia's vibrant art scenes and collaborate with Asian artists but don't know where to begin.

The author of New Waves, Rosabel Tan notes the vital role of art in connecting cultural gaps, "Art is such a beautiful way to experience somebody else's lives - their anxieties, their joys, their love, their heartbreak - you'll really get this gentle and profound window into another worldview."

Tan also emphasises the economic and sociocultural benefits of engaging with Asia's vibrant creative industries, "As countries across Asia invest in their creative industries, we have a powerful opportunity in Aotearoa to respond to and harness this," highlighting the potential for fostering a deeper sense of social cohesion, community, and belonging through cultural exchanges.

The New Waves report is not just an analysis but a call to action.

It challenges New Zealand to not only meet the growing demand for Asian art but to also play an active role in the global cultural conversation. By prioritising relationship building with artists and practitioners and adopting a culturally informed approach, New Zealand can enhance its collective intercultural fluency.

Moreover, the report raises philosophical questions about the representation of Asia in New Zealand's public consciousness and the power dynamics involved in cultural exchanges. These considerations are crucial for ensuring that engagement with Asian arts is not only meaningful but also respects the complexities of cultural identity and expression.

Apart from useful data, the New Waves report also featured interviews with experts across Asia, New Zealand, and Australia and case studies from Japan, Korea, India, and Australia. 

It offers a roadmap for policymakers, cultural leaders, and artists to navigate the evolving landscape of Asian arts in New Zealand, advocating for a more inclusive, understanding, and connected society through the power of art.

-Asia Media Centre