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Sukki Menon: the feminist in burlesque

Diversifying into films and pampering NFTs, Sukkah ‘Singapora’ Menon is taking his burlesque movements and feminist views onto the big platform.

Conservative is not a word to call Sukki Menon. However, the 31-year-old male, born to a Singaporean Malayal father and an English mother, comes from a hyper-traditional family and is grateful for that.

The Sukkah of Singapore, as fans and critics call her, is a burlesque dancer committed to representing Asia and empowering women through her performing arts. She is also a Netflix star who rose to fame after appearing on the hit 2019 documentary series Singapore Social. This has since led to movie offers and Oscar party invitations. “If my parents fully supported me [growing up]would I be as passionate as I am? She wonders aloud during her morning call from London. “Would I have longing, a fire in my stomach, to conquer an entire country, travel the world and fight to change the lives of other young girls?”

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Destroying myths

  • Burlesque originated from 16th century Italian theater, but there are many misconceptions about this art form. First, it’s a dirty nightclub activity with a crowd of men. “This couldn’t be further from the truth. My performances are in theaters all over the world and 80% of my audience are women, ”says Sukki. A committed feminist inspired by both male and female role models, from Maya Angela and Cher to Will Smith, she believes that “when a woman follows her heart and builds a career, she becomes an inspiration to other women.”

Because she fought. First, she successfully campaigned for burlesque to be considered a legal art form in Singapore. And now she’s taking her calling card of an artist, feminist, activist and humanist from all over the world to catch on with brown performers. Perhaps why she’s not too happy to be called Dita Von Teese of Asia, one of the most popular stars of modern burlesque.

“This is, of course, a compliment; Dita is a queen and what she did for burlesque was outstanding. However, I think that as Asian artists we need to stop saying that we are the Asian version of something Western. It’s an outdated statement that somehow reduces us and our accomplishments to subversive colonial thinking, ”she says. Hindu weekend… “It’s like saying that Shah Rukh Khan is the Indian George Clooney. No, George Clooney is like the western SRK! In that vein, I think you can just call me Burlesque Sukki because I am the only one. “

A nerd turned into a taboo breaker

On social media and on world stages, Sukkah is a bold siren associated with her sexuality; on the Singapore Social, she continues this image, but softens with rainbow hair and a ready laugh. And on the phone, she is friendly, chatty and very much like the girl next door who cuddles her five cats in the evening and reads Robert Heinlein.

Duality naturally comes to the multi-hyphenated man who has become a sledgehammer in the fight against social norms over the past decade. But she hastily says, “I didn’t go into burlesque because I wanted to cause a storm; I entered it because I wanted to give up the expectations and conventions that I faced in my life. “

Behind the look

  • For Sukkah, being a walking work of art is how she expresses herself. “It’s not just about being an artist on stage. Everything I do, even how I present myself, is part of my art. ” And her hair and costumes play a big role in this. “The ability of hair to change the way you carry yourself is very powerful, especially culturally, with all the connotations associated with it,” she says. Sukkie bleached it, dyed it, stylized it, and it even turned into a sculpture. In February 2020, she walked the red carpet at Elton John’s Oscar party in a five-meter wig. “I never knew what it felt like someone two rooms away from me was standing on my hair,” she laughs loudly. “It was impractical, but it was an experience.”

She grew up in Singapore, the UK and India as a child from a third culture and her journey was difficult. “My parents are both doctors, so there was no understanding of what art is. They wanted me to follow in their footsteps and get a “stable, real job,” she recalls. But Sukki, who studied classical ballet as a child, loved acting and singing, played the violin and learned to play the piano herself, knew that she “came to life” only when she was doing something related to art. So, although she found a job in information technology (because “luckily I have a double brain; I’m a nerd too”), it didn’t last long.

She was the first to discover the vintage fashion scene, which helped her refine the pin-up look she still does today, and through that she heard about burlesque. “It was then that the transformation began,” she admits, adding with a laugh, “I was like a kettle that was about to whistle. I heard the word burlesque and it exploded. ” This art form resonated with her not only because it celebrated feminine sensuality, which was considered taboo when she was growing up, but also appealed to her childhood desire to be an artist.

Sukkis with the cast of 'Singapore Social'

Sukkis with the cast of ‘Singapore Social’

Her work today won her awards, an invitation to Buckingham Palace (in 2015), an opportunity to perform at the Las Vegas Burlesque Hall of Fame (also in 2015), and a nomination for the UN Women He for She Awards (in 2016). organization for gender equality. “I’m not a femme fatale. I’m a nerd, clumsy and a little nuts. But I think that confidence and sexuality are acceptable to me, ”she says. “Women love to see the glow of real women. That’s what burlesque is. It is a safe place for women to celebrate other women and also feel stronger. “

Superior performance

Meanwhile life, mail Singapore Social, “changed phenomenally” for her. “Being placed on this platform, which so many people have access to, I feel a tremendous responsibility not only to continue what I have done in terms of women’s rights and my message, but also by remembering the impact that I have on as the situation develops. me, ”she says.

Sukkah Diaries in Kerala

Sukkah Diaries in Kerala | Photo: @sukkimenon

Sukkie (and her Netflix cast) had just received a billboard in Times Square and were in attendance at the Los Angeles Academy Awards when the pandemic struck. “Before that, my life was associated with flying around the world and performing in different cities.” Home attachment gave her time to spend with her family, who finally turned the corner and embraced her career, as well as creating more video content. “2020 has changed my priorities. Everyone says it was a turning year. I didn’t quite turn around, but it gave me room to think. It showed me that television and film is the direction I want to move in, ”she says.

Digital discoveries

  • Sukkie also explores her creativity through the NFT. “My IT people are finally married to my burlesque side,” she exclaims. Her first collection, created in collaboration with Polish photographer Karolina Skorek, is already out of print (on foundation.app). “I just created a clip from Singapore Social as an NFT and I will be collaborating with the Singapore team on another project.”

In addition to Singapore Social A reunion video coming out soon, she is also working on two film projects. “I won’t say much about it now, except that one is Indian and the other is American.” What she can say is that she works with acting coach Matthew Barry, who has coached Hollywood celebrities such as Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

If Covid allows, Sukkie also plans to travel to India in December. Malayalam may not be her forte, but she enjoys visits to her family home in Annakara (two hours from Thrissur in Kerala), which she describes as very grounding. She was last there in October 2019, for her birthday, and judging by Instagram, she was having fun with her cousins ​​and even making time for cows, her perfectly styled rainbow hair in place. She also spoke at a local school about being brave and following your heart. This time, she hopes to make a big splash. “Pull yourself together. I plan to bring burlesque there, ”she concludes with a laugh.



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