Own Voices Interviews: Collaging Identities with Prema Arasu

Janelle Koh in conversation with Prema Arasu
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Prema Arasu

Can you tell us a bit about the workshop/s you ran at the Own Voices Storytelling Festival, and the idea behind it?

As well as overseeing the running of the festival, I ran a collage and found-object poetry workshop. I wanted to run something that was accessible to all ages, all languages, and all skill levels, and no pressure to produce a ‘finished’ piece of work. We cut up, defaced, and destroyed books and papers that we didn’t want to ‘define us’, and put them back together in an assertion of our individual identities. The objects used in the workshop included drug prescriptions, power bills, novels we were forced to read for class, philosophy we disliked, old poetry, and lifestyle magazines. The aim of this workshop was to empower participants by giving them a way to construct a work of art from pre-existing objects and demonstrate that everyone’s identity is in some way a collage of many different things.

The Own Voices Storytelling Festival is aimed at youth, but is open to all members of the community. How important is it that youths and the communities they come from are empowered by creative practices?

Although it is first and foremost vital that marginalised young people have access to basic needs such as healthcare, food, housing, and education, the importance of nurturing creativity cannot be understated. Events like the Own Voices Storytelling Festival, which not only serve to teach young people ways in which to find their own voice but also aim to overcome the barriers which often prevent certain groups from attending arts events, are vital to the functioning of our local and global communities.

The Own Voices Storytelling Festival, like the rest of the events in the Story Street Program, aimed to be as accessible as possible. We achieved this by making all events free, providing food, providing interpretation services, ensuring that most if not all events were suitable for all ages and cultural backgrounds.

What is it about your particular practice or craft that you think promotes social justice/ human rights?

I’m a full-time PhD student at the University of Western Australia doing creative writing. Doing my PhD allows me to write, which means that I have a voice, and since I am a human (?) it gives me the right to have a voice.

What do you see as the biggest challenge to human rights at the moment, either within or outside your practice of the same?

The ongoing oppression of Uyghur people in China is deeply concerning to me right now, and many non-Muslim Chinese people are in denial about it.

What is your biggest hope for human rights at the moment, either within or outside your practice of the same?

I feel like Gen Z kids are our biggest hope. As a generation they’re much more informed, empathetic, and resourceful, and fully aware of the fact that they’re going to inherit a world that needs change.

 

Produced by Community Arts Network (CAN) as part of the Lotterywest Story Street project, the Own Voices Storytelling Festival was a free two-day intercultural celebration of storytelling which ran from 30 November to 1 December in Girrawheen, WA. Run in partnership with the City of Wanneroo, the Festival aimed to cherish all identities, all forms of storytelling, and all languages within a community setting. Workshops run involved empowerment of youth through children’s stories, art, philosophy, poetry, zines, intercultural solidarity. You can find out more about the work of CAN here.

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