Regional Artist Profile: Yola Bakker
Each month Regional Arts WA features an artist, arts worker or organisation and explores their practice in the regional arts sector. If you’ve got someone you’d like to nominate for us to feature (including yourself!) you can submit their details here.
In the middle of the Pilbara mining community – artist and thought leader – Yola Bakker is a spark of creative energy facilitating change and challenging norms.
With a background in law and arts, Yola regularly traverses WA and overseas working with a wide variety of businesses, groups and organisations provoking and inviting new ways of thinking, being and operating both professionally and personally.
“I adopt diverse practices which orbit a holistic approach across all areas of my existence. This is demonstrated simply by the vast array of echo chambers I move through, project development, education, property investment, the resource sector, creative practice, industrial relations, and people development.”
Her creative practice encompasses movement (dance), language (writing) with a passion for design and photography, amongst a variety of other forms.
Yola manages her artistic and business pursuits through creative commercial and community-based projects under the banner of LANAH. The name comes from a combination of the English and Indonesian word for land which is ‘Tanah’.
Yola’s cultural background is rooted in both Macassar and Ambon, islands in East Indonesia, north of Darwin, where her mother was born.
“Culturally song and dance are a huge part of who I am as a Macassarese Ambonese Australian born in the Top End. My upbringing hinged largely on music and dance over food around saltwater so the arts has always been with me, including a passion for the story line between native groups of Indonesia and the First Nations of northern Australia – who long had a trade treaty in place prior to colonization.”
As a young girl living in Darwin and spending time in Indonesia every year, Yola was encouraged by her mother to dance – both traditional and contemporary. This led to a residency in Jakarta funded by the Northern Territory Government in her early 20s teaching contemporary dance, where she also studied classical Indonesian dance.
Yola currently teaches contemporary dance classes in Tom Price. She also uses movement in her projects with non-arts industries not familiar with the artform, through her Gravitate workshop program. She believes physical movement is a powerful mode of self-expression, exploration and change. It’s a practice that breaks down barriers, with life changing effects for all.
“Essentially, I like to make people feel in such a way that makes them think or look at something in an entirely different light. I am in fact more interested in the change that isn’t always obvious… the unpredictable shifts in people that are often intangible due to their work with me is something that I value greatly as an artist.”
Shearers, farmers and scientists from rural communities have approached Yola post workshop and expressed it was entirely outside of their comfort zone, but it was the best feeling ever!
Film Producer, Bec Bignell saw one of Yola’s workshops and approached her to be involved in an exciting seven-part regional series launching in late 2020. Yola choreographed non-dancers into dancers. It was filmed in Kojonup with professional actors and local community members and directed by Socratis Otto. The series focuses on authentic storytelling about shared regional experiences. She also acted in the series and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to experiment in scriptwriting too.
Secretly Yola was writing poems in private for five years and occasionally sharing them with friends and family. She found it to be a cathartic process to delve deep into dark places and play with perspective amidst our ever-present social conditioning.
“Playing with language elements, adding creative rhythm and rhyme, are such incredibly powerful tools for narrating stories, delivering messages, and drawing overall clarity from the complexity and chaos that challenges us all.”
It wasn’t until Yola was selected by the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation for the first ever alumni sponsored position, that this mother of three young girls had time to focus on her creative endeavors and leadership pursuits. It was during this 18-month development course with 30 other industry leaders that she felt vulnerable and open to the process, shared her passion for poetry and embraced her creative power.
In 2019 Yola was invited to be a keynote speaker at her graduation ceremony in Canberra with the Deputy Prime Minister and other federal ministers in the room. She felt the only way to express her story authentically was through poetry that challenged Australian norms and spoke to First Nations wisdom, which was received positively. You can read her piece here.
Since her poetry debut, Yola’s poems have also taken the form of spoken word and shared on social media channels. In her role with the Western Mine Workers Alliance in iron ore mining, she is constantly being approached onsite by miners commenting on her poems and providing their own interpretation of what she has written.
Surrounded by reams of poems and other literary works both personal and professional, she was encouraged by friends and colleagues to share her poetry with the world in the form of a book. One book soon became three books under the title – The Thought Trilogy, in collaboration with visual artists Lauren McNally and Jules Holland. She is currently working on finalizing and publishing all three.
Being regionally based has afforded Yola may opportunities she feels are not possible in a metro area. She has connected with passionate, strong, and creative women doing incredible things in regional, remote, and rural Australia. She is currently working with other businesswomen as part of the Rural Women’s Seed Scheme which provides support and business training for creative women. The Inland Pilbara POD businesses include LANAH, Salty Sea Art, Elly Bla Photography and From Dust Creative Arts. She is a strong advocate of regional arts and artists.
“Whilst access to arts in remote areas is absolutely an issue, capacity and talent is second to none.”