PRIYA VUNAKI-SINGH: Comfortable in otherness
Born and raised in Tasmania, Priya Vunaki-Singh is a local artist and DJ (Puffy Pank) of Fijian-Indian and Scottish heritage. As an adult Vunaki-Singh has found confidence in her identity and does not shy away from expressing it in her artwork, which she describes as fantastical, utopian and psychedelic.
THE PIN. Can you describe your childhood?
PRIYA VUNAKI-SINGH. I grew up in southern and northern Tasmania, my mum and dad were together for most of my childhood. My dad is Fijian-Indian and my mum is Scottish. My dad moved here when he was 17 and mum moved here when she was 12. I’m not sure how to describe my childhood now that I’m thinking about it.
What were the ideas around race and culture when you were growing up?
P. My father was a very proud father, especially in regard to his cultural background and he would share that culture with me. Up until I was going to kindergarten he would speak to me in Fijian. That ended up fizzling out because it was just more practical for mum and dad to speak to me in English, because it was a shared language.
There were lots of little things that he found important to share and he made quite a big deal about me being Fijian-Indian, it was such a big part of who I was and my mum really embraced that as well because she loved that about my dad. I didn’t feel like I was weird or strange because of it, it was just what we were like. I suppose you’re so connected to your family at that age you don’t really see yourself outside of that bubble. It was a big part of the way I formed my identity. I am definitely half Fijian.
Are there certain things you picked up from your fathers culture, that you’ve carried on yourself?
P. Without this getting too therapy session [laughs], I unfortunately recall the negatives from my dad's cultural background more vividly. The positives are there but there has been a lot of weight and pressure. I think I’ve done a little more processing than my father of what it means to be a minority in Australia. He really struggled hugely with a lot of racism in Tasmania, I also did in some of the towns we lived in in Northern Tasmania.
I think because I’ve had a good support network, a lot of progressive, intelligent, beautiful, open minded friends, I’ve really been able to value my background and embrace it and not feel oppressed by it in the same way my father was. It’s easier for me as a first gen.
How has your cultural heritage expressed itself in your music and art?
P. Yeah, definitely. Aesthetically it influences me and conceptually. It didn't initially. If I look at my work over a decade it’s slowly becoming more and more stronger. I think that’s because when I was younger I wasn’t as comfortable with my otherness as I am now. There was a point where all the women looked very white and also had very anglo frames, I’ve noticed that the images are becoming more like me and have progressed along with how much more confident I’ve gotten in being myself.
I definitely embrace and look into a lot of the mythological narratives, predominantly Indian and Pacific Islander influences, I feel really strongly about using those stories.
Are you often asked where you’re from?
P. Yes, all the time. I don’t think there would be a week that goes by that I’m not asked. I used to be a lot more graceful about the question and then I got a bit angsty and now I’m more educational. I can be a little bit difficult. I can sometimes just not give them the answer.
THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
PRIYA VUNAKI-SINGH. I feel like personally, the thing I would tell my younger self, is to pursue what you love doing. I don’t think any amount of telling myself would change how I needed to experience things.
- This interview has been edited and condensed
Photo credit: Kiri-Lee Bailey