It’s a sunny Friday Auckland afternoon when we meet the fabulous Jahra ‘Rager’ Wasasala. This performance artist, dancer, and poet, not only has the extravagant looks of a gypsy goddess, but an effortless presence that fills a space with ease.
Her approach to her chosen artform, in fact life in general, is forthright, energetic, and passionate. Jahra speaks her mind. She hates bullshit. A powerful force within our local and international performance art scene, Jahra is going places with a determined single mindedness that she carries deep within her soul.
There are eight-plus at the photo-shoot, including designers, editors, stylist, and hair and makeup. The dance moves flow, as does the conversation. Some of it is captured here and below.
What Inspires You To Make Work?
The idea of the world as a woman’s body and how that is connected. The never-ending burning of the earth that we bear witness to everyday. The way the world gnaws at its own limbs yet still proclaims it is starving. The joy of my sisters. The legacy of my mother. My instinctual desire to protect people of colour. My own internal conflict. The human need to heal.
What Have You Found Challenging In Your Creative Practice?
What I am finding challenging at the moment in New Zealand is the general public attitude towards the arts, toxic communities surrounding the arts and and the processes we use to fund projects. Ask any artist and they could go on and on about it. People don’t realise how much they need the arts, for real. This is the way we document our people. This is how we communicate our experiences. The arts develop empathy. Empathy develops understanding. Understanding eliminates ignorance. A decrease in ignorance is an increase in openness and acceptance. And I’m sure we can all agree that we need that now more than ever.
What Is Your Creative Practice?
At the moment my creative practice is falling more into the realm of performance art. That’s the only title that seems to come close to fitting me at the moment. I make multi-disciplinary work and I specialise in the genres of contemporary dance and poetry.
What Are Ongoing Themes In Your Work?
Ongoing themes in the general body of my performance and written work are that of the complex experiences surrounding womanhood, internalised and externally motivated racial conflict and Pacific identity within the diaspora. In my solo work ‘bloo/d/runk’, I draw on all of these themes but specifically speak to the global physical epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, as well as their symbolic annihilation from our media.
What Does Training In Your Practice Look Like?
Training depends on the individual. I think that for me it is a life work. I am constantly refining what training means to my creative practice. It’s becoming more holistic. It’s becoming more about ritual and how much I engage and invest in an act when I am doing it, rather than how many times in a week I can do it. I have to craft my training to what the work I am involved with at the time needs. From the gym and physical conditioning, to dance technique training, to visuals I am consuming, to media I saturate myself with, to the way I let the world influence me, to my cultural connection, to the books I read, to collaborations I work on, to the food I eat, to the people I am spending energy on, to the way I talk and what I talk about, to the practice I give to my writing, to yearly shows versus regular gigs, to the personal experiences that broaden my vocabulary as a human being — it’s all relevant, changing and necessary.
Is Anyone Else In Your Family In The Arts?
I proudly come from a clan of artists. My mother heals people, in every way you could imagine. My first younger sister Shaki is a performer and film director. My second younger sister is a theatre artist and a writer. My younger brother is a musician of a ridiculous amount of instruments. One day we will join forces and make something truly surreal!
What Was A Highlight For Your Career In 2016?
Last year was a truly incredible year for me creatively. One of the highlights was being able to tour my solo work ‘bloo/d/runk’ to multiple places at opposite ends of the spectrum. This included representing my country as part of the Aotearoa Pacific Artist delegation for the 12th Festival of the Pacific Arts held in Guahan/Guam. That was unbelievable. I look back at that experience as my ‘homecoming’ back into my Pacific identity.
What Are You Looking Forward To Within Your Creative Work In 2017?
I’m looking forward to a lot of things this year, but I think the overall goal is for me to use my creativity to connect communities that may not otherwise connect. I hope to achieve this in my travels and create some sort of solidarity and sisterhood between women of colour in Aotearoa and overseas. This is the time we artists need to be doing this kind of work.
What Do You Want Other Aspiring Artists To Know?
What are you waiting for? This is the time to galvanise, regroup, generate, create and shift the narrative. We have the power. We have the resources. Don’t wait for anyone else to do it. Believe in your own work. Find your clan that believes in you and trust them. Refine your taste. Dedicate yourself to practice. Elevate your execution. Never settle. There is a lot of work to do, and as artists we are going to become more important, and more dangerous. Challenge everything you know. Be hungry for more. Heal yourself. Go beyond the damn reef. And always return home.