Andrew Tay & Stephen Thompson
Make Banana Cry
June 2-5, 2022
June 2-5, 2022
There is a sense of curiosity as we are let into the conference room with our feet wrapped in lilac-coloured plastic bags. We have been invited to a quasi-fashion show, with rows of stackable chairs lining a purple-and-pink, swastika-patterned U-shaped runway. Scattered around the hypnotic-looking catwalk are museum-like plinths holding objects evoking a variety of Asian stereotypes, chinoiseries, and other Orientalist images. Mixing the codes of couture and contemporary art, straddling spectacles of consumption and entertainment, Andrew Tay and Stephen Thompson’s Make Banana Cry is an impressive demonstration of physicality, an unrelenting exhibition of Western xenophobia, and an ingenious show of humour and wit.
As the halogen stage lights brighten the runway, a whooshing, industrial soundtrack comes over the PA system. One by one, five dancers emerge from behind a colourful backstage wall to walk the ramp. They are Francesca Chudnoff, Cynthia Koppe, Sehyoung Lee, Andrew Tay, and Stephen Thompson. From the outset it is difficult to tell them apart, as they are covered head to toe in thick winter gear. Only their eyes, covered in bands of fluorescent makeup, peek out from under wrapped scarves and toques. Their bulging attire suggests many layers worn underneath, supporting extra weight to be peeled away while on display. The embodied baggage of anti-Asian racism, hate, or caricature is heavy to bear when it is part and parcel of the dominant culture. Once the audience is lulled into a false sense of security with a slow march, a call-out by one of the performers sends the event into another gear. Music blares over the speakers and layers of clothing begin to fall away. Over the course of the next hour, Make Banana Cry confronts us with a living archive of symbols, gestures, objects, and sounds underscoring an oppressive umbrella of clichés that signify “Asianness” for white Westerners.