The OzAsia Festival 2023 is a bold international program of cultural sustainability featuring Australian performers Rainbow Chan and 1300.
Inside the Dunstan Theatre on the banks of the Torrens River in Tarntanyang/Adelaide, the inner world of a young Chinese factory worker comes to life.
His name is Xue Lichzi. He is a budding poet, making ends meet at an electronics factory in Shenzhen, producing electronics not much different from the smartphone or laptop you might be reading this on.
His words breathe life into the factory's mundane existence.
"I swallowed the moon made of iron They call it a screw"
Lichzi's works are part of the growing movement of Chinese worker poetry that has emerged over the past decade, primarily led by young factory workers from across mainland China. His poetry addresses issues of globalization, migration, and the dehumanizing effects of contemporary production, but they are mostly published posthumously.
Lichzi took his own life in 2014 at the age of 24.
Chinese-Canadian composer and theater artist Njo Kong Kie recalls discovering Lichzi's works on the internet in 2014.
"About four years before that, there was a series of worker suicides that made headlines. Over a dozen workers had taken their own lives. So I was already aware of the situation... and it didn't surprise me," Kong Kie says.
"But his poetry struck me differently. Of course, it made me sad... but I also trembled at his mastery and his way of speaking."
Kong Kie was inspired to set Lichzi's poems to music, which became the basis for his latest work, "I Swallowed the Moon Made of Iron." Conceived as a solo cycle of songs, it is a kind of requiem and one of the 15 major performances planned for this year's OzAsia Festival.
"It's an artistic response from one artist to another," he says.
Kong Kie opens the show with a video message recorded on an iPhone manufactured by Foxconn, the world's largest electronics manufacturer and the company where Lichzi worked.
Around the time he worked there, reports from 20 universities described Foxconn factories as "labor camps."
"I don't know what it's like in those factories... because that's not my life, but I know what I feel when I hear their stories," Kong Kie says.
In the video, he dedicates the show to Lichzi and other "ignored and unnoticed workers around the world whose sacrifices have made our lives better."
Kong Kie interprets Lichzi's poems in Chinese through songs and plays the piano. Industrial equipment sounds and ocean waves accentuate the songs, creating a subdued melancholy and inevitability.
"In his words, there is a lot of beauty, even though they are very tragic," Kong Kie says.
The show impresses with its simplicity, but its metanarrative about globalization and consumerism makes one reflect on the cost of modern convenience.
The OzAsia Festival in 2023 features works that reflect the wave effect of globalization.
For the uninitiated, it's an annual Australian arts festival with a focus on Asia and the Asian diaspora, encompassing 30 events covering music, dance, theater, visual arts, talks, and comedy. It is the only festival of its kind in the world.
"There's nothing like it... yet we're still one of the least known at this major festival," says artistic director Annette Shun Wah.
This year's program is bold and eclectic, with particularly strong offerings in the performing arts.
"Our program has three main directions: one is to give an idea of what is really interesting in Asia right now, another is to support collaboration between Asian and Australian artists, and the third is to provide a platform for truly outstanding Asian-Australian works," says Shun Wah.
The festival's focus on supporting local talent is a recent directive from Shun Wah, who has been leading the festival since 2021 and is the first Asian-Australian to do so.
"I program by feel, not by numbers," she says.
"I'm always looking for things that are outstanding from an artistic point of view, but, above all, things that have real depth of meaning."
This year's music lineup features Australian artists of Asian descent, including Filipino singer-songwriter Emily Wurramara, Taiwanese-Australian alternative pop-rock singer Jaguar Jonze, and Korean-Australian K-rap darlings 1300.
The program includes other gems, but to find them, you'll have to explore.