Youth Week WA is underway and Patrick Gunasekera chats with four young artists about their arts practices and how they are moving their creative projects onto virtual platforms.
Cezera Critti-Schnaars, Spare Parts Puppet Theatre
You might recognise this budding theatre artist from her debut in Yirra Yaakin and Bell Shakespeare’s Hecate earlier this year. Cezera Critti-Schnaars is now in her fourth year of writing with Yirra Yaakin’s playwriting group and completed WAAPA’s Aboriginal Performance course in 2018. Since mid-March, she has been working with Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and is currently a presenter on the At Home With Puppets online workshops for children.
“At Home With Puppets came from a place of wanting to firstly, still work and find something for us artists to do,” Critti-Schnaars explains. “And secondly, to create online content for kids and parents to give parents something they can do with their kids or let their kids do alone so they can have a break as well. It also started with the idea of getting kids to make something that they can send to family members they can’t see at the moment.”
Critti-Schnaars has worked with children before, teaching Noongar songs in schools through Madjitil Moorna’s Koorlong program But translating her work to an online platform has been a new experience for her, as has some of the puppet-making.
“I’m quite new to puppetry and it has been really exciting to also be learning bits and pieces as I go along, and to be able to make my own puppets and do all the same things that the kids are doing, it’s a really fun kind of work. I’m really grateful for the people working with, Michael Barlow, Yvan Karlsson and Ming Yang Lim. We make a really good team and I’ve learned a lot from working with them.”
For Critti-Schnaars, connection and creativity are at the heart of the online tutorials.
“I’m hoping that it’s a way for kids to be able to connect with family and friends who they aren’t able to see due to the isolation we’re in at the moment,” she shares.
“But I also want the kids to have that time to be creative, and find a way to look at the world a little bit differently and see things they wouldn’t usually see. The kids are really connecting with it, and we’ve received a lot of really good feedback for the videos we’ve done so far. I think people like how easily it translates to the kids.”
Kobi Morrison, Propel Youth Arts WA
Raised in a creative family, Kobi Morrison works predominantly as a musician and in collaborative ventures around town, teaching people about reconciliation and keeping Noongar culture alive. He is currently working as Creative Coordinator of Youth Week WA KickstART festival.
“Since staring this role there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t been inspired by somebody in some way or another from Propel’s community,” Morrison says. “It motivates me to maintain as much versatility as possible in a changing world, and the world is more different than ever now.”
Like many cultural events planned to take place after mid-March, KickstART Festival 2020 had to be called off in accordance with social distancing recommendations, but Morrison and the team at Propel Youth Arts WA have reimagined an online version of Youth Week WA.
“There was a discussion about not celebrating Youth Week and maybe moving the week up to a different date. However, a bunch of us thought we can still celebrate Youth Week in different ways. What we’re hoping to achieve is to celebrate youth arts by working with some people who we would have been collaborating with for the KickstART Festival and getting them to do something small each day like pre-recorded video tutorials, a livestreamed event or talk about Propel’s history and previous Festivals, and a number of other surprises.”
Youth Week WA may not look the same as what he had envisioned going into the role of Creative Coordinator, but Morrison is finding it to be a meaningful and dynamic way of connecting with young artists.
“My hope for next week is that young artists in Perth and maybe even around the world take the time out to witness what is going on here, and that we motivate people to remain as artistic as possible in these times. Propel has the capacity to build an ever-growing community, especially for people who just need that sense of community in their life. So hopefully people will be able to see that we have the ability to know a virtual community that can also be reiterated as a physical community one day.”
Shauna Goh, Cherish
Arts worker Shauna Goh is the founder of Cherish, previously known as a.f.batt, a creative platform that functions as an ideas incubator and connects emerging artists in Perth with the South East Asian arts scene. Shauna graduated with a Diploma in arts business management in Singapore five years ago before coming to Perth to study art history at UWA.
“When I moved over here, I just fell in love with the pace and balance that people in Australia were taking towards the arts,” she recounts. “In Singapore, a lot of things were driven based on market and trends and art in commerce, and art is so much more than that, there’s a human aspect of art as expression. And rather than looking at art as an art object, commerce, or as an asset to shift around the economy, I found it super refreshing being able to study art in such an environment as here in Australia.”
This contrast in methodologies influenced the philosophy underpinning Cherish. “I am hoping this platform will marry the extremely entrepreneurial spirit behind the art and commerce in Singapore with the more human and grounded approach to art and art practice here in Australia.”
Drawing from her own experience as an emerging artist, Goh has established Cherish as a space for creatives to explore their own craft free from expectations.
“It’s a space to encourage budding artists regardless of age to have the boldness and courage to embrace their artistic decisions based on what they determine, without having the intimidation of the second party imposing any restrictions or expectations on what they have to create. It was something I struggled with when I was first introduced to the art industry at the age of 17.”
Goh has an acute interest in social impact and how the arts can contribute to this, “not just through statistics, but through real, practical methodologies.” She is particularly proud that Cherish attracts 60% women and fem engagement.
“The representation of women in spaces is not only important because of the presence of women, but also the ways we negotiate, the way we understand each other, and the way we understand what issues to nurture and how that can shape decision making. That’s something that I interlace into the entire project, as well as a structure that has tangible goals.”
Since founding in 2018 Cherish has presented fruitful intercultural group exhibitions and critical discussion events across Perth and Singapore, with the focus in 2020 on the online platform and remote freelance online work.
Prema Arasu, SFF Collective
Prema Arasu is an emerging writer (currently completing a PhD on creative writing at the University of Western Australia) and the founder and host of SFF Collective, a new discussion-based book club based at Centre for Stories and centred around the science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction writing.
“It’s not based around reading a different book for each meeting, but rather about the topics discussed together,” Arasu explains. “We have a discussion topic each week, and ones that we’ve had in the past include empires, monsters and aliens, gender, and we also had a pride month themed event focussing on queer themes and queer authors.”
Arasu notes that in the local writing scene, there tends to be a divide between what’s considered literary and genre fiction, especially fantasy and sci-fi.
“I’m attempting to bridge that gap through my event. And it’s been really great in that respect because I’ve had attendance by people who are fans and people from the Dungeons & Dragons community who want to talk about their DnD world-building, but also from people who are writers, people who are academics, and people who just want to discuss their favourite books.”
SFF Collective recently transitioned onto an online platform to keep it running as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds. “We’ve done it on Slack which means there’s an ongoing chat which is open at all times, but we also set aside times where everyone can be online and chat specifically about the discussion topic if they want, but you also don’t have to.”
The pandemic has also infiltrated Arasu’s creative writing practice, as the book they’re writing for their PhD is about plague.
“It uses plague as a metaphor for social degeneration and social ideas, and also social control and how power structures use illness and socially construct illnesses as ways of grasping power and also blaming it on certain social groups that they wish to persecute, so it’s really a mechanism that drives the plot forward. But recently I’ve had trouble writing it because it feels like anything I write now is going to be too lodged in the present, and instead of being an allegory for social power it might end up being an allegory for coronavirus. So it’s a question of whether I want to lean into that or lean away from that, and that’s a decision I’m yet to make.”
For now, Prema hopes to continue hosting the SFF Collective space and nurturing the community that has built around it. “It has forged connections and created a place for people to exchange their writing or just share their ideas of what they’re working on, and it’s also gotten quite a few regular members who I think do enjoy having that sense of community, and we’ve gotten some new members too. We might even have a session specially to do with isolation and how social distancing has affected our writing, or perhaps a discussion topic focused on medicine and disease in sci-fi and fantasy writing.”