Ghenoa Gela, performing artist, Bleach* Festival

... I always keep looking for pathways for myself to move forward and if they are not there, I’ll make them ...

Right now, the Gold Coast is gearing up to welcome the 2019 edition of its largest arts and cultural event, Bleach* Festival, which runs across the city from April 17–28. This year, you’re in for a treat – the program is beyond spectacular and will soon begin to unravel with an incredible series of events, performances, installations and more across all corners of the city. We wanted delve a little deeper and get to know the artists that are bringing this world-class festival to life, and one person that has truly captured our hearts is Ghenoa Gela – an inspirational Torres Strait mainlander and insanely talented contemporary artist, performer, dancer and creator. Her one-person show
My Urrwai is one of the highlights of this year’s festival – so kick back and get to know Ghenoa before you experience her magic on stage.

While there are many people that follow yourself and your widely applauded works, some people reading this may not be entirely familiar with Ghenoa Gela. So, for those just getting to know you (and for the Gold Coast folk that may be experiencing your magic for the first time at Bleach* Festival) give us a one-liner to tell us who you are and what you do …
I’m a multi-disciplinary artist, who aspires to inspire the younger generations by defying social expectations.

Let’s take it back to when you were growing up in Rocky. Did you always have dreams of becoming a contemporary artist, choreographer, creator, performer (the list goes on…)? Was there a lightbulb moment for you?
Short answer – no and … no. Long answer –  I know after my little brother and his friends made a dance troupe at school inspired by Janet Jackson choreography and film clips that I was inspired too to be her backup dancer! Lol… but… I never expected myself to become an artist! Of any sort! I was really into sport back then! I wanted to be the next high profile athlete like Cathy Freeman! Reckon there’s never been just ‘one’ lightbulb moment.. Everything up to this point has all been relevant to my journey. I always keep looking for pathways for myself to move forward and if they are not there, I’ll make them.

We’re really excited that you’ll be on the Gold Coast soon for Bleach* Festival, which will see you perform your solo show My UrrwaiTell us a little about the production and what we can expect?
The production is a bunch of stories from my personal life experiences that is woven into an hour. From previous audience member comments, they’ve been excited to learn new things and also have been challenged in their own way of thinking as well – which they’ve all welcomed. It can be confronting, but also thought provoking. You can definitely expect to see me! Lol… But honestly, it’s best to come along yourselves and make your own minds up about it.

My Urrwai is very personal, and it’s autobiographical in nature. How did you go about conceptualising real events, actualities, stories and cultural reflections?
It was a massive process of figuring out ‘what’ I wanted to say, ‘why’ I wanted to say it and ‘how’ we were going to do it! So, 100s of post-its later, and Kate Champion’s brilliant mind, we – Rachael Maza (director) Annie Gela (cultural consultant) Kate Champion (dramaturg), Ania Reynolds (sound designer) and myself – managed to cull it all down and shape it into a handful of stories that we could weave from my past, through my present and into my future.

What do you hope that audiences take away from My Urrwai?
This question is quite hard. Hmm … I proper hope the audiences are provoked/impulsed into conversations and new thought. Even long after the show.

Over the years, you’ve been creatively involved in countless productions and performances with a number of different individuals, groups and companies. Does your creative approach change when it comes to solo work?
Yes. I actually have lots of power in what I want to say and how I want to say it. So the responsibility of how I use my platform is 100% mine. When you perform with someone else it is ultimately their vision. Some you can collaborate with, others not so much. It’s all relevant to the process. But the percentage is drastically different – I fluctuate within their 100%.

How does it feel creating and performing a piece that is unequivocally you?
Well it’s only a small part of me! So I guess it feels a little short! Like my fro! Lol… gammin! Nah, I feel pretty proud I have created a show that speaks to people in ways that they themselves didn’t realise it would, and I am very blessed to have created it with the support of my solid family and friends, all my boss-lady mentors and the best My Urrwai dream-creative-team I could have ever asked for.

What is it about your profession that brings you the most joy?
Real human connection. When I teach young people, their energy and creativeness gives me soul food. When I yarn with my mentors, their artistic guidance and support gives me inspiration to be more ambitious. When I get passionate to tell my family’s stories, my mum, dad and elders give me foundation and cultural spirit, so I can just keep moving forward. I reckon I wouldn’t have been half as curious about myself and my identity in this world if I didn’t travel down the path of an artist.

Finally, what inspires you?
Everything. I intend to keep my eyes in ‘wonder’ so I don’t miss a thing and/or get bored! Lol. But in particular my parents and family, their passion for our culture and their want to share our culture so I have a place in the world, really gives me drive! And Anime – because deep down inside I want to kick all the bad guys arses and save the world!

You can experience Ghenoa Gela in My Urrwai as part of Bleach* Festival on Friday April 26 and Saturday April 27 at HOTA. Tickets are available here.

Image credit: Jamie James


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