Exploring multiracial identities for Asian Americans with 'Half Magic'

2 minute read
Joseph Ahmad's live performance is part of the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of the artist.)
Joseph Ahmad's live performance is part of the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of the artist.)

For many Asian Americans, our lives fit into one of three categories: a daily world fully informed by heritage, a blend of two cultures, or living largely disconnected from our parents' homelands. Like myself, Joseph Ahmed falls into the last category, of estrangement. We're both mixed the same way (Bengali and white), and have spent our lives in America mostly unexposed to an entire side of ourselves.

Reconnecting with yourself

Part of the 2020 Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival (PAAFF), PAPA Mini-Residency: Half Magic is Ahmed's reckoning with these facts and the accompanying feelings after losing a family member. What does reconnecting with a part of yourself look like after a lifetime of white identity in America? I talked a bit with Ahmed in advance of his solo performance's livestream.

Joseph describes Half Magic and his artistic practice as a whole as caught between genres. The performance is fundamentally theater in structure and form but takes cues from dance, storytelling, and circus arts. He hopes to show these techniques not as spectacles but as valid vehicles for metaphor and expression in theater. The artist mentions that this blend of mediums is elevated with help from his director, Mieke D, and prop designer, Sara Outing.

COVID has compressed this experience from two different live performances into a 90-minute filmed presentation. After turning his house into a makeshift film studio, borrowing two cameras and enlisting his partner to record, Joseph spent a weekend in the summer shooting his explorations of identity and upbringing. He says the risk-free format is a document to be studied for future versions of Half Magic. The performance is a work-in-progress developing through Philadelphia Asian Performing Artist's Mini-Residency Program, with hopes of shows for live audiences once things are safer.

In terms of reconnection outside of artistic performance, the process can be intimidating. Living so removed from a part of yourself is a tough barrier to overcome. For many in this situation, it starts with viewing ourselves differently, then recontextualizing our experiences. For Joseph Ahmed and myself, there's more to be found in conversations with our families about things like recipes, poetry, and memories.

What, When, Where, and Accessibility:

The YouTube Premiere of PAPA Mini-Residency: Half Magic by Joseph Ahmed will stream live on Thursday, November 12, 2020 at 6pm, as part of the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. Find the link here.

To find out more about his work, visit josephahmed.com.

Image Description: A headshot of Bengali American Joseph Ahmed, smiling with a black top with white accents, stands against a green screen, his hair past his shoulder off to his left side.

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