Practising poetry and dance in the Pilbara

16 September 2020

How many artists do you know who work in the mining sector? We tend to think of the arts and mining as mutually exclusive but regional West Australian performer and writer Yola Bakker is proving that it is possible to work across both sectors.

Yola Bakker not only works in creative ways for the Western Mine Workers’ Alliance to grow the organisation regionally across the inland Pilbara, but she is also the founder of LANAH, a social enterprise that runs a variety of commercial and community-based projects aimed at creating social and environmental change.

It’s under the LANAH umbrella that Bakker offers GRAViTATE, a movement-based development workshop for both corporate and community groups. Nina Levy was fascinated to learn more about Bakker and her wide-ranging ways of working creatively.

Nina Levy: Tell me about your creative practice… what does it involve?
Yola Bakker:
I have a performing arts background (contemporary and classical/traditional Indonesian). Currently, however, I am focused on my writing (making poetry relevant again) and using creative practices in other spaces for creating crucial conversations as a foundation to meaningful impact.

Yola Bakker. Photo: Stacey Robinson

NL: And you work in other areas too, aside from the arts?
: Yes absolutely. Apart from creative industry, I am in the labour union space with the Western Mine Workers’ Alliance up North for BHP and Rio Tinto Iron Ore miners. I am also passionate about social and environmental impact and work with endeavours in Indonesia (currently on COVID hold).

NL: What’s it like being an artist in a rural community?
Being a creative in a rural community is both joyful and frustrating! Organisations that claim to serve us really don’t do themselves any favours and the people that they claim to serve. Women, creatives, service providers are tired of organisations laying claim to representing respective groups when all they really are is a mouth piece for government, caught up in rigid practices as opposed to being the conduit through which creatives can steer change.

NL: I’m interested to know more about the GRAViTATE program, which sees you getting people in both corporate and community settings to move creatively.
GRAViTATE is a great workshop for all those people that inherently believe they are not creative. I love moving people (literally) in ways that really push them outside of their comfort zones and cause them to feel vulnerability at a level society rarely encourages. I have not had a negative response.

I guess as our bodies age and we deal with the challenges that brings, I wasn’t dancing nearly as much as I would have liked to so this has been a really great mechanism by which I’m able to keep my practices relevant to my work. The value that it has brought hasn’t been more or less, but rather different, which is such a beautiful gift to me.

Yola Bakker encouraging Western Mine Workers’ Alliance colleague Andy Smith to do ‘jazz hands’.

NL: You’re a poet too… how did you come to share your poetry publicly?
YB: I was asked to share my experiences as the first ever Alumni Sponsorship recipient with the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation in Canberra. I had to do it in a way that was authentic to myself and represented the practices which have shaped me and continue to do so. Doing a dance was probably a little left-field so I opted for poetry and have never looked back. I was blown away by how it was received and landed so differently with such a diverse crowd.

Using spoken word and the voice to address hard hitting social issues – and topics we tend to tip-toe around – is empowering. I love looking at issues such as gender equality, violence against women and general social injustices to create more conversations and drive education and awareness.

NL: How has COVID-19 affected/shaped your work this year?
My writing got more attention and observing the human condition during the crisis the unfolding pandemic was the source for a great deal of material. It has been fascinating to see the self-generating systems emerge as they did and how incredibly efficient they were. As I mentioned earlier, my work in Indonesia (Project Ceram) is on hold until international borders re-open.

NL: It sounds like you lead a very full life! How do you fit it all in?
I work very hard. But my work is also my play so I guess there isn’t really a need to fit it in. It’s just how I live my life and all of these elements overlay each other in ways that really collectively strengthen the calibre of my character, commitment and capacity to create quality with whoever I’m working with.

It certainly helps that I don’t drink and am what others might describe as a social recluse!

But in all seriousness I have three daughters who are watching me very closely. I am their greatest teacher and I’m acutely aware of the humans we to leave behind – whether by virtue of parenting or due to simply having come into contact with one another – are our greatest legacy.

Find out more about LANAH at https://www.lanah.co/

Follow Yola Bakker on Facebook or Instagram.

Pictured top is Yola Bakker. Photo: Stacey Robinson

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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