#WomanOfInterest: Jahra ‘Rager’ Wasasala
August 2nd, 2018 by Richie Kormos
Meet Jahra ‘Rager’ Wasasala: contemporary dancer, choreographer, poet, and this week’s #WomanOfInterest. Of New Zealand-Fijian origins, this multi-disciplinary artist fuses contemporary dance with live poetry and other unique artistic mediums. She utilizes art as a means to start a conversation.
Wasasala, though not yet 30, has already begun to make her mark on the local and international contemporary dance scene. She is known for her edgy, compelling artistic interdisciplinary dance performances, as well as for her “socially provocative nature.”
Wasasala’s work is fueled not only by her passion for her Fijan/NZ Euro heritage, but also by her ardent support in the empowerment of people. Specifically, she’s passionate about the empowerment of women.
Outside the world of the arts, Wasasala is also a founding member of the Youth Advisory Group. She is also a youth representative for the Pacific Advisory Board for the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Early Life and Education
Though she was born and raised in the New Zealand town of Aotearoa, Wasasala’s heritage is rooted across the globe and stretches as far as the Pacific islands of Fiji.
Following her performance in Black Grace’s Urban Youth Movement in 2009, Wasasala accepted a job as an intern with the company. She expanded upon her training repertoire while working there. In 2010, Wasasala started studying at Unitec. There, she earned a Bachelor in Performing and Screen Arts degree for Contemporary dance just three years later.
Following her graduation, alongside her pursuit of dance, Wasasala began to explore her passion for poetry. She earned second place in the renowned Poetry Idol Slam Competition of New Zealand. This allowed her to represent the city Auckland, NZ at the NZ National Poetry Slam in Wellington.
As a young emerging artist, Wasasala’s talents in poetry and dance have already taken her to many parts of the world, collaborating with those in the global artistic community. Along the road, Wasasala has had the opportunity to take part in a wide array of unique, moving dance works. One of which was ‘Orchids’: a dance piece known for its “highly provocative” and political nature, performed as a part of New Zealand’s Tempo Dance Festival. In 2014, Wasasala earned a spot amongst the distinguished Indigenous Dance Residency at The Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. Wasasala moved to Berlin in 2016 to perform at the Sophiensaele Theatre, where she took part in a mini-festival entitled, “The Witch Dance Project.”
In addition to her dance experience, Wasasala also has also choreographed and co-choreographed some pieces. One of her most recent pieces is “MOTHER/JAW,” Wasasala’s “first full-length contemporary dance and spoken word poetry theatre work”. She co-choreographed this piece with dancer and choreographer Grace Woollett. In 2016, Wasasala created the international performance, “PASSING,” which was co-choreographed with Grace Taylor. She also performed in Melbourne, Australia during the Next Wave Festival, along with “God-less,” a piece performed at the 2016 International Pacific Arts Festival in Guam.
In addition to her repertoire in dance, Wasasala has also participated in a few spoken word pieces. She was a part of a spoken word show entitled “Chewing Your Ears” at the Adelaide Fringe Festival.
Fusing Dance and Social Impact
In addition to her contributions to the dance community, Wasasala contributes to the New Zealand arts community. She serves as a mentor and active facilitator for organizations including MIXIT Refugee Arts and the National Rising Voices Youth Poetry Slam.
According to Wasasala, her name reflects her purpose in life, which in some languages translates to ‘vessel.’ “That’s literally my job … to be able to transport messages,” said Wasasala.
When asked how she defined success in her artistic field, Wasala said this. “For [artists], [success is] more about fulfilling what we feel our purpose or our role is, in our community and in our world. The idea of fulfillment should be said more than success. Success is such a foreign concept, I think to feel like you are fulfilling your purpose and contributing back to the world, should be the aim,”
Through her work as a performer, Wasasala seeks to explore a wide array of themes related to her roots as a mixed-race artist. Some themes she explores include women’s rite of passage rituals, “the stripped indigenous mother-country in a historical and modern context,” and “how we must connect young mixed blood to old stolen blood.”
Decolonizing Climate Action
In 2017, Wasasala took part in a series of “performances, conversations and readings” called “Decolonizing Climate Action”. This was a collaborative event put on by the Blak Dot Gallery, the Counihan Gallery and ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2017. Its purpose was to join artists, activists and experts, so that they may “creatively respond to and discuss Indigenous knowledge systems informing decolonized climate action on land management, sustainability, climate justice and climate refugees”.
For this event, Wasasala performed the Fijian/NZ-rooted solo dance work, “bloo/d/runk”. In this work, Wasasala “seeks to embody every woman of colour,” through a work described as “visceral and emotionally stirring”. This piece was inspired by “the global epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, the current assault taking place on Indigenous land globally, and investigates the themes of Pacific diaspora and the relationship between the earth and the female form.”
For more information about Wasasala and her work, visit her online portfolio at cargocollective.com/JAHRAGER/BRIEF-BIOGRAPHY.
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Genni Abilock is a writer for StarQuest. She loves baby carrots, SpongeBob, and playing Frank Sinatra songs on the ukulele.