EWF At Home Residency Q&A: Jessica Paraha

In 2020, EWF is proud to present EWF At Home Residencies, a program that supports emerging writers by offering time and financial assistance to work on their craft.

Jessica Paraha is one of six writers selected for the At Home Residencies program undertaking a fortnight of creative work, supported by EWF, in November and December.

Congratulations on being a recipient of our EWF At Home Residency! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Nga mihi EWF for the opportunity to work with 2020’s At Home Residency program! 🌺

My name is Jessica Taruna Paraha, and I am a multimedia artist and chronically curious adult baby. I’m also a Ngati Hine wahine who grew up on the Gadigal lands of the Eora nation. This year has been strange, and a lot has shifted and changed under my surface that is still in the process of settling. Here’s hoping that wherever it grounds itself will be cute.

What project will you be working on during the Residency?

I will be using this residency to work on my project whakawhiti futures, a long form prose piece deeply rooted in the concept of Pasifka and Māori futurisms. I sometimes wonder about our ancestry and mythology as foreshadowing, taking our creation stories that underpin our world view and reimagining them as portence for generations to come. We think about our tīpuna who voyaged across seas, who used celestial bodies as maps, and wonder what seas we may move through next. Pasifika futurisms question what forms our culture will take when the lands that we are custodians of are swallowed by a rising sea.

This residency will be spent researching and developing a practice that is deeply rooted in Te Ao Maori (the Māori world view). How do we engage in this medium in a truly respectful way, that utilises our practices of manaakitanga (communal care), Tino Rangatiratanga (sovereignty) and Tikanga (values and protocols).

I will also be using this time to work in collaboration with the Pasifika Storytellers collective and Ante Arts Collective.

What do you love most about writing and creating?

I love that writing and creating is an abundant vehicle for curiosity and learning. I kind of think about my work as a process of translation. More like a conversation than an act of creation. It feels nice to think that my writing is a way to speak with my whakapapa, a fundamental practice in Te Ao Maori that places us within a wider context of ancestry, lands, tribal affiliations and familial responsibilities. When sitting down to write I like to imagine I’m sitting at a table with empty chairs and a full pot of black tea waiting to see who wants to come and talk to me. The stories that come are painful and beautiful memories that aren’t mine but are of the parts that make up me. Sounds a bit wild to say out loud, but I love it and the flow that comes with it.

Can you tell us more about your work with the Pasifika Storytellers Collective & the Ante Arts Collective?

Oh for sure. They are my favourites.

I was very shy to be invited to Pasifika Storytellers Collective (PSC) earlier this year when the pandemic had just started getting pretty serious. The collective is made up of writers, oral historians, musicians, poets and artists that gather together on Zoom once a month to share responses to a storytelling prompt and at the time I would never have called myself a writer. This group of artists have informed and made space for my voice to be heard and I am immeasurably thankful for their support and care. Arohanui e te whanau.

PSC just held their first online performance event as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival called “Existing on Two Planes”.

Ante Arts is a collective of QTPOC DJs who came up together learning to be technicians under the guidance of human angel Ayebatonye Abrakasa. What I love about Ante is the way they advocate for each other’s individual artistic growth, while always coming through to skill share. This means that they all have distinctive voices and incredible foundational training in their work. Like PSC, Ante’s strength is in their ability to fiercely come through for each other personally and professionally. During lockdown we hosted online twitch parties bringing the QTPOC club joy to people’s living rooms. I’m super grateful to be a part of them.

What’s something you’re proud of doing this year?

This year has been very big. Just so very big.

I’m proud that I’ve let go (alot) and let myself fall into the work that I’ve always wanted to do. Before this year the extent of my public writing was in work emails (that contained many emojis) and dusty old essays from art school.

There was something magic about 2020 that made a stage for love, vulnerability and many opportunities to be brave. Thinking reflectively about this, I’m really proud of myself for following my instinct and purposefully making space for my arts practice to breathe.