Joella Warkill: Community Voices – ASSI History Month

This week we chat with talented wordsmith and performer Joella Warkill for the ASSI History Month Community Voices series. Joella took the time to answer a few questions about her creative practice and the importance of history, community and family in providing inspiration for her work.

Standing in front my piece ‘Cook My Hungi Like You Did My Ancestors’ in the Plantation Voices exhibition in 2019. Photo credit: State Library of Queensland.

Joella is a proud First Nations and South Sea Islander woman; descending from Yidinji people and Pentecost and Ambrym Island/s in Vanuatu. Aside from being the Associate Producer at BlakDance, and being a full-time University student, Joella has a strong passion for spoken word poetry, and working with youth and communities in the performing arts field. 

Joella’s poetry has been performed in various spaces including QLD Parliament, Plantation Voices exhibition at State Library of QLD, National Young Writers Festival 2019 and Commonwealth Games 2018. More recently Joella has commissioned pieces for local online magazines, SBS First Nations takeover series 2020 and BIGSOUND Festival 2020. 

Tell us a little about yourself and your art practice. 
I’m Joella Warkill, proud First Nations and South Sea Islander woman. Born and raised on Darumbal country in CQ with close connections to Kanaka Town/Creek St and Joskeleigh communities. I’m currently studying a Bachelor or Human Services and Creative Writing at QUT and I write and perform poetry independently when I’m not working or studying. 

Where did you grow up and how has it influenced your creative practice? 
Growing up in Rocky I grew up constantly around all my families and close to Kanaka Town and Joskeleigh communities – which both hold a lot of history, memories and love for my parents and grandparents. This influenced the themes I write about it and the approach I have with my practice. There are pieces that I write that I immediately know are for my communities back home instead of for mainstream spaces and the ability navigating where my words should be presented comes from understanding that my “art” at the centre of it is just a way of continuing my cultures. 
In the same sense growing up far from my great grandmothers country has taught me how to appreciate country and home when I am there, and strengthens my creativity in writing when I now live even further away, in Meanjin. 

Where do you find inspiration for your creative practice? 
Everything I ever need to inspire myself is in my history, community or family. Vague answer, but painfully true. 

What creative project has been a highlight in your career so far? 
The first time I got to share my poetry in front of my Nan will always be a highlight for me. Other than that, sharing my poetry as part of the Fake Art Harms Culture campaign in Queensland Parliament. My other highlights aren’t particularly creative projects but being able to share in front of my Nan for the first time, and to the community back in Rocky will always be a memory I’ll look back and smile on. 

Whose work in the Australian South Sea Islander community are you enjoying at the moment?
I love and support any ASSI artist or creative whenever I can. But I really Love following my cousin and deadly musician Robbie Mann (Malampa Mann on Facebook) lately. More recently he has been sharing a lot of his musical journey online and taking solo gigs and gigs bigger than himself and it’s really deadly to see. 

Speaking on a panel as an artist in the Plantation Voices exhibition at SLQ in 2019. Photo credit: State Library of Queensland.

Where do you see your creative practice heading in the future? 
I aspire to become a well published author of YA novels that create solidarity between my own communities, educate other communities and have my writing stand as a representation for future generations to see themselves taking up as much space as they can. 

What do you love about the creative arts and why?
I love that you can tell stories in such an engaging way in a space that lets you explore and experiment and be yourself all while representing your people and community. The only boundaries are those of your own and you’re constantly learning in the creative arts industries. 

Performing a spoken word piece with Ethan Enoch-Barlow at Queensland College of Art. Photo credit: Digi Youth Arts

Do you have any advice for young or emerging artists and creatives?
Don’t rush your process for immediate success or validation. Following your passions will challenge and test you in the best of times but finding the balance between life and work/art is specific to you and only you so don’t compare your journey to others, and always remember where and who you come from. 

Where can people find and follow you online?
You can follow me on Instagram at @mynameisjoella_ 

Further links:

WATCH Joella’s poetry performances on Instagram:

What does freedom taste like?

Voice, Treaty, Truth w Ethan Enoch-Barlow

Featured image: Performing a spoken word piece at IMA in March 2020. Photo Credit: Marc Pricop, Institute of Modern Art. All images courtesy of the artist.

In Newcastle for the National Young Writers Festival 2019.

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