The Singapore Social star gets candid on representation in the industry and what her best advice is to young Asian creatives.
The pandemic affected a lot of people differently. From the the new found chef habits to fitness instructors on the rise, we all tested the waters with something new. For entertainment artist and actor Sukki, rediscovering her connection with the planet was on her mind. “I totally deconstructed back to my natural self, natural hair, and broke everything down to who I was away from the stage,” the presenter said “ What emerged was just me: natural, probably a bit weird, and shy when people weren’t looking. That’s when I started to reconnect with the purpose of why I was here on this planet, what legacy I wanted to leave and how I wanted to help and inspire those around me.”
Known for her campaigns for the burlesque scene and representation of women’s rights and the South Asian community, the TV personality and actress has been making waves in the industry over the past few years, passionately fighting for equality and emphasis on various topics. Venturing onto the small screen with Netflix’s Singapore Social in 2019, the activist candidly welcomed us to her world, while discussing why she is defying expeditions and navigating a family life in the public eye. Already booking herself for more roles and projects this year, we caught up with the star talking diversity on screen, her goals for the future and her best advice for aspiring Asian creatives.
Check out the interview below…
Hi Sukki, how are you?
Oh hey there! I’m feeling pretty good! How are you guys?
How has the last year been for you? Did the pandemic affect your creativity in any way?
The last year has been life-changing, I’ve learned to love myself and love others so deeply. I feel in an elevated state of complete gratitude. It feels good and surreal all at the same time. Like I’m floating through the sky. Creatively I feel like I’m a totally different creature, and I’m sure it’s the same for many of us who were extremely lucky to have not been destroyed by the pandemic, as so many were. A metamorphosis occurred internally; before the pandemic I expressed myself through rainbow hair, and lived and breathed burlesque. When the pandemic hit, I went from striptease to being stripped bare, literally. I totally deconstructed back to my natural self, natural hair, and broke everything down to who I was away from the stage. What emerged was just me: natural, probably a bit weird, and shy when people weren’t looking. That’s when I started to reconnect with the purpose of why I was here on this planet, what legacy I wanted to leave and how I wanted to help and inspire those around me. Everything creatively that came out of me from that point onwards felt organic and I didn’t care if I moved with a different energy, I just wanted to move from a place of complete honesty.
Talk to us about your status as a half British, half Indian Singaporean talent in the industry. How has your experience as an Asian woman in the creative industry been?
Wow it’s been mixed, no pun intended. In many ways I’m so grateful to have been part of the precipice of change – filming a TV show when at the time there wasn’t any other global reality show for international release starring an all-Asian cast. That felt incredible because it felt like we were changing history and paving a much overdue way. But in other ways it’s been tough. Asians have been having a moment, but for brown desi Asians like myself, we still have a way to go until we get the kind of global visibility I’d wanted to have seen growing up. The representation just isn’t quite there yet, so I still feel like there’s a battle to be won when it comes to seeing Asians of all colours recognised and celebrated. Hopefully I can help bring that about, because I’m determined to give us a louder voice.
And, you are known as an activist, especially for issues regarding brown actors in Hollywood! What do you hope to achieve next with your work?
It’s crazy because the term “activist” is banded about so much now. For me, activism wasn’t really a choice, it was something I had to do to change what I was seeing in my own community. When I see things of injustice, I can’t help but speak about them, and I’ve been through enough cultural repression personally to know what it feels like to desperately crave change. It’s why as a burlesque artist I campaigned for it to be considered a legitimate art form in Singapore, and why now in television, and as I head towards film, I hope that my voice will pave the way for young brown and desi artists to feel unafraid when expressing themselves, not just in Hollywood but also in their own homes. In terms of a wider mission, I simply hope for this: that one day people will look back at my work and remember it for helping humans feel a little more brave, and a little less alone.
Do you have a message for any aspiring Asian creatives looking to enter the industry? Maybe some words of advice?
Be yourself. Don’t dampen your “Asian-ness” because you think it will make you more palatable, and don’t amp it up and allow it to be fetishized or fashionized to fit a quota. Just be you. Stand tall and be brave. We might still have a way to go, and sometimes it might feel difficult not just in the industry but also with regards to our families, but someone has to push through – it might as well be you. Because I promise you, you can make it, and when you do you’ll thank yourself for not giving up on that dream, no matter how hard it felt at the time.
I know that you left your job in IT to pursue a job in burlesque, which kickstarted your journey towards Hollywood! Talk us through that journey! Is there anything that you wish you had known before making this transition?
It’s been one heck of a journey, but it kind of makes sense. I’m from a very strict and traditional Indian Asian background, so as children we were encouraged to pursue sciences. However I was born artistic, and in my blood I was destined for the arts one way or another. So when I got to a certain age, I just took the plunge, found a theatre that was opening near me, and auditioned to be a burlesque artist. Burlesque might seem like a insane leap from IT, but it made sense: I’d trained in classical ballet as a child, I’d wanted to express myself, I’d grown up in a culture where sex positivity and female sensuality was a taboo, so this rebelled against all of that and shut it down. It was perfect. What I didn’t realise was that I was the first person from Singapore to do it professionally and internationally, and when I went to return to Singapore burlesque wasn’t considered a legitimate art form. Nowhere allowed you to perform it publicly. Despite it being a beautiful art, it was seen as overtly sexual and unsuitable for public consumption. That’s what drove me to doing something about it – as an Asian woman of colour I know what it’s like to feel subjugated, and I wasn’t going to allow a patriarchal authority to dictate what we did or did not do with our bodies, especially over something that was clearly a feminist art form which empowered us. After four years of fighting I won, and that’s when Netflix noticed me and cast me on their show. From there it’s felt like an organic step into television. I wouldn’t have done it any other way even if I had a chance to relive this life.
You most recently made your television debut in Netflix’s Singapore Social! What was that experience like?
It was insane, it still is insane! It hasn’t felt real to be honest. I think the experience for all of us was incredible because we all knew we were making history for Asians in television, so that’s stuck with us post-filming, and feels deeply humbling. During filming I knew this is what I wanted to do more of going forward. Maybe not reality television, but certainly television and film. As an artist it allows you to do so much more than live performances. It’s a different medium, but it electrifies my creativity. It also has the power to amplify your voice, and gives me a bigger platform to help others. That’s the real goal in everything I do.
If you could star in one show, other than your own, currently on TV what would it be?
Star Trek Discovery. I’d love to work with Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman because they’re inclusive geniuses, and I’m a monumental sci-fi fan. Their work moves my soul and kicks me in the heart. I’d love to be a part of it.
What is next for you? Do you have any projects you are keen to get started on next?
Right now I’m really excited to be working on two film projects, so I can’t wait to share that. In between projects I’ve been extremely grateful to be working with Women of the Future, The Sharan Project and KindFest. There’s no joy in soaring if you can’t share your flight with others, so at every opportunity I try to do so. Life is taking me on a beautiful journey, and it feels good right now. I’m opening my heart to everything that’s coming my way.
You can follow Sukki on Instagram.