Lisa Fa’alafi, Brisbane Writers Festival
We create space to explore our stories, our rage, our love and our joy. We want to see more of our stories on stages so we make it happen ...
Rooted in art, dance and music, Māori and Pasifika cultures comprise some of the most dynamic and diverse styles of artistic expression in the world. This multifaceted melting pot of creativity boasts a strong legacy and a rich history that stretches beyond geographical boundaries to pockets across the globe. Many Māori and Pasifika artists live and create in Brisbane. A group of these individuals will gather to discuss the magic of their culture as part of the Brisbane Writers Festival’s 2022 program. We caught up with one artist – Hot Brown Honey’s Lisa Fa’alafi, an accomplished Samoan Australian writer, director and performer – to chat about weaving advocacy into her work, plans for this year and the magic of Māori and Pasifika art.
Your resume boasts credits as a director, performance maker, choreographer and designer. You no doubt have a fierce love for performing and creating – can you give us some insight into what first sparked your interest in the arts?
For me a love of arts was inevitable. From my dad taking me to learn traditional Samoan dance, to making up dances to Janet Jackson in the garage, I have been obsessed since I can remember. Just like my ancestors did, I use the arts to help make sense of my world – in my case to examine my dual ancestry living as a settler on stolen land in a body that is made political every time I walk on stage.
It must be creatively freeing to be able to wear an assortment of hats throughout your work. In your opinion, what are the best parts of conceiving and planning a work compared to performing it in front of audiences?
The best part of being a maker is that you are truly in control of your own story. You can craft the words, the images and the movement and drill into what is most important for you and your team. For me it’s about dreaming myself and others that look like me onto centre stage.
Much of your work, particularly through your artist collective Polytoxic and celebrated show Hot Brown Honey, is grounded in advocacy – especially for diversity, collaboration and intersectionality in creative spaces. Are you able to give us an insight into your process of creating impactful works in an easy-to-digest and entertaining way?
Creating space where BIPOC femmes can authentically be themselves in itself is a radical act. Therefore creating safe space is at the core of what we do. We create space to explore our stories, our rage, our love and our joy. We want to see more of our stories on stages so we make it happen. We do the work, we offer the support, we place people above buildings and we place underrepresented stories at the front!
You’ll be joining a group of incredibly talented Meanjin/Brisbane-based Māori and Pasifika artists for Diaspora Excellence at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival. Can you share some details on how the event was conceived and what sort of discussions you and the other guests will be diving into?
The panel was curated by Anne-Marie Te Whiu and I’m excited to sit and chat with incredible fellow artists Hope One, Brian Fuata, Ofa Fanaika and Winnie Dunn. Who knows where the chats will go, this crew is so multidimensional and talented I’m sure we could share and talk for days.
Māori and Pasifika art is incredibly diverse, but what are the qualities, characteristics or sensibilities that you think unifies the region’s artistic culture as a whole?
Throughout the pacific, art, dance and music are an intrinsic part of our existence. They are our daily, our ordinary and our extraordinary. We also share our big laughs and cackles that are always too loud for most and a love of sharing everything, stories, space and most importantly food.
Art – be it music, performance or visual art – can be a vital way of preserving traditional cultural practices and history. What are some of the ways you like to utilise your work to propagate and share Māori and Pasifika culture with wider audiences?
Our work personifies our ancestral bloodlines no matter what. Sharing our culture is as simple as putting oneself on stage – having my face reflect the expressions, the body language, the mana. As artists, sometimes you can fluctuate between laying cultural foundations for predominantly white theatre audiences, creating work with many layers – many of which will only read for our own people – and having an individual voice saying whatever you damn want. Existence is resistance!
On a similar note, are there any creatives in the community that you think are doing incredible and innovative work that deserve to be recognised?
For me the companies pushing to elevate BIPOC artists are who are most exciting. People of Cabaret in Australia, Cocoa Butter Club in UK, Virago Nation on Turtle Island (Canada) and Fafswag in Aotearoa.
The past two years have been exceptionally challenging for the performing arts community. What are some ways that you practice self care and remain creatively stimulated in the midst of unpredictable circumstances and pandemic fatigue?
Currently a lot of artists including myself are in state of continued flux. Even though we have had time to reflect on what and how we want the new normal to be we are on the other hand being put in even greater stress situations. We are navigating these unprecedented times as best we can, but for me, trying to get my body in the ocean helps a lot.
Finally, what does the rest of 2022 hold for you? Are there any exciting projects in the works that you can’t wait to show to audiences?
After two years staying safe and caring for our families, our company Hot Brown Honey finally reignites our World Pollination Tour with our first stop being Melbourne International Comedy Festival. We are also excited to grow the Hive, working with Dublin Fringe to create a brand-new work with a team of Black and artists of colour based in Ireland.
Lisa Fa’alafi will be participating in Diaspora Excellence – a panel discussion featuring Māori and Pasifika artists living and practising their craft in Brisbane – at Brisbane Writers Festival on Tuesday May 3. Click here to get your tickets!