#WĀHINEWEDNESDAY: Isabella Ieremia

Navigating life with a unique worldview

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July 22, 2020 Abigail Uttley

Isabella Ieremia is a 21-year-old Pasifika Arts Advocate, studying Law and Arts at the University of Auckland. A strong believer in the power that art has to bring people together, Isabella advocates for greater access to high-quality art for Pasifika people and other minority groups - in order to ignite positive change. 

At 19, Isabella was the assistant producer for ‘The Guerilla Collection’ - bringing Pasifika artists together to create new work, and this year she worked as the assistant producer on ‘Upu’ - a collection of poetry from Oceania presented by Silo Theatre. Selected as one of our Y25 finalists for 2020, Isabella is a wāhine toa on an inspirational journey and we were delighted to get to know a bit more about her in her answers below: 

 

To give your audience a quick, relatable snapshot of who you are, do you have a ‘kindred-spirit’ book, tv show or film character who’s a bit of you?

Ooh this is a tricky question. I would like to say I’m Donna from Suits, but if you asked my dad, he would tell you I’m Po from Kung Fu Panda.

 

You are on holiday and need to relax and rejuvenate. What would this look like for you?

Anywhere near the ocean, friends and family in tow and lots of good music and food.

 

Lots of high schoolers wrestle with what pathway to take outside of the four walls of a classroom. Was this the case for you? Or was there a defining moment that steered you towards Law school and Pacific Studies?

I was that weird kid who had a 10 year plan at age 13 - so you could say I’m pretty career driven. In saying that, Law school and Pacific studies weren’t always on the cards. I actually wanted to be a doctor and my decision to study Law and Pacific Studies came relatively late in the piece. My decision to change tact came at the end of Year 12, after a pretty poor academic year. I was taking all the sciences and calculus and just wasn’t enjoying myself. I had a long think over that summer and the one thing I was certain about was that I wanted to be able to help people with whatever pathway I chose. Law school emerged as a study option and seemed like a really good fit for me – my friends and family would tell you that I’m strong minded and never shy away from a good debate. Pacific studies is my passion project and has helped me a lot with my own personal journey as a Sāmoan/Palagi woman. I also major in Politics which ties in really nicely with Law and Pacific studies. 

I think the thing that doesn’t get communicated very well to high schoolers is just how many different jobs exist in the world. There are so many jobs out there that you’re not told about or exposed to at school age and university isn’t the only option.

I think the best thing anyone can do, when trying to decide what to do beyond school, is to think about what gets you excited and what your goals are. Do lots of research and talk to people.

As a New Zealand born Sāmoan woman, how do you navigate the two different cultural voices in your life? 

For a long time, this was a difficult challenge. For most of my schooling career I was called “plastic” and I honestly just let it slide because I had no real confidence or pride in my cultural identity. I never felt truly comfortable embracing my Sāmoan heritage because I had this stereotypical idea of what it meant to be Sāmoan and I didn’t fit the mould. However, with time and learning, I’ve come to embrace my identity and where I stand. Like so many others, I belong to a unique cultural grouping of New Zealand born Pacific islanders who have been raised in Western environments, with Pacific values. Whilst navigating these voices can be difficult, I see myself as lucky to be influenced by two different cultures. The duality of my ethnicity has given me a unique worldview and has made me the woman I am today. 

 

You have stated that Art is a powerful tool to “bring people together and create better understanding of different groups.” Who was an artist that you admire who did this, using their form of art to bring people together and form understanding?

My dad. I’ve been really fortunate to grow up fully immersed in the arts community as both of my parents work in the arts sector. My dad, Neil Ieremia, founded his dance company Black Grace in 1995 and I’ve always admired his ability to use dance as a platform to discuss really important issues. Dad’s a strong believer in using art as a tool for positive social change and his work often discusses pertinent issues to the Pacific Island community. It’s not common practice to sit down and talk about the tough issues in Sāmoan culture, so dance and art in general, can be used to start conversations that might not otherwise be had. 

 

What’s your favourite medium of art and why?

I’m a wee bit biased but it would definitely have to be dance. I think it’s the human aspect of it and how it combines movement and sound. I love the physicality of it and I’m always amazed at its ability to discuss various subjects and issues without words. 

 

Who is your favourite fictitious lawyer character or law-based show?

It 100% would have to be Suits. All of the characters have a special place in my heart but I definitely have a soft spot for Jessica Pearson. She was the managing partner of the firm and an absolute boss. Gina Torres who plays Jessica is also a woman of colour, which is really the icing on the cake as I love seeing women of colour cast in high-power roles. She was also impeccably dressed in every single scene – goals. 

 

Lastly, if you could change one thing (with no limitations on timing or budget) in your lifetime what would it be?

Poverty. Not sure exactly how I would do it, but if I could accomplish one thing it would definitely be to eradicate poverty.

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