#FEMMESPO: How to Be an Artist with Perth-based Performer Asha Kiani

Our FEMMESPO column highlights independent womxn who are making their own way in the world and inspiring us to do the same. This round we are featuring 27-year-old Asha Kiani, a performer, producer, and multi-modal artist from Fremantle, Western Australia.

Asha has written, produced and performed programs at The Blue Room Theatre, Fringe World Festival, and Perth International Arts Festival. She is a co-founder of the Second Generation Collective, working to curate the stories of first-generation Iranians who fled Iran during the revolution and the current generation who have grown up in Australia with dual identities. Asha is also a co-producer for the theatre epic The Dirty Mother by Michelle Hall, which was featured in Fringe World Perth and Melbourne Fringe 2020.

In this interview with Femmezoner founder, Roya Ansari, Asha gives us a glimpse into her creative career path and offers advice on how to be an artist, even without a traditional arts degree.

Roya: When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?

Asha: I have always been a creative person, but I didn’t always work in the arts. Like many of us, I finished secondary school, went straight to university, and finished a degree unrelated to the arts. I worked jobs ranging from procurement in a finance office to nannying gigs.

At this time, I could feel a sense of sadness in me, like my mind and spirit were feeling the effects of ignoring the creativity that made up who I was. Having not gone to art school or gained success from posting YouTube videos of me singing during my teens (hey, it worked for Bieber), I got to a point where I realized if I wanted to be able to make my talents, skills, and passions into my ‘work’, I had to try and make it happen for myself – and soon – because no one else would, and time stops for no one.

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R: How did you become a music producer?

With music production, I started investigating how a young woman (of color) can learn to create and produce music independently in an industry so dominated by men and the ‘sex sells’ principle. I contacted music makers online – some of whom were helpful, others not so much. I attended production workshops, and offered to do backing vocals, harmonies, or write lyrics for other producers and artists. I joined Women of Music Production Perth (WOMPP) which holds monthly workshops for female and non-binary folk who want to learn how to use Ableton and self-produce music. Here I made contacts and started getting lessons in electronic music production which has given me the skills for the debut EP I am currently working on (stay tuned!)

This was a slow process that, to be honest, often felt like an uphill trek to who-knows-where. By 2016, small companies and various individuals began to ask for my help, and thus, I made my first foray into working in the music industry. In July 2019, I finished writing my first full electronically-produced song and my mentor and co-producer, who is highly skilled, gave it her tick of approval and encourage me to release it. 

R: How did you become a theatre producer?

A: As a performer, my biggest break came in 2019. My sister and I saw an advertisement at a local NGO called ‘The Centre For Stories’ inviting women who identify as South Asian to share their stories in a safe space. We joined the project, went through a series of storytelling workshops and eventually ended up performing our stories on stage at the local Blue Room Theatre. This was my first time back on stage since high school and it felt so right.

The director of the Blue Room Theatre company watched the performance and contacted me afterwards, encouraging me to put an idea forward and apply to perform in the 2020 Perth Fringe World Festival. I applied, and my piece got chosen. And thus, in January this year, I wrote, produced and performed my first solo theatre piece. This opened so many doors and propelled me into a community of artists and creators with whom I can learn and grow.

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R: What is your greatest accomplishment? 

A: It’s pretty damn cool to see the EnglisiFarsi Persian in English books that I helped create being appreciated by children all over the world. It’s also humbling when someone contacts you to say that your lyrics or melody helped them heal, feel, or smile.

I think my greatest moment this year was when I performed the piece of theatre I created at Fringe World. I was going to go down a comedic route with the vibe of my piece and keep it light-hearted, but ended up taking a leap of courage and writing a piece that commented on grief and how I feel we should be encouraged to lean in to and embrace grief when someone close to us dies. I composed a song that I sung at the end of the show and to look in to the audience and see strangers with tears streaming down their face was an incredibly humbling and proud moment.

R: Where do you draw motivation?

A: While I tend to live in a general state of awe and admiration for the many talented people and diverse art forms in my life, I can identify three key sources of inspiration: 

  • I was raised to believe that we are on this earth to learn, develop, and contribute to the betterment of society (and enjoy it as we go). This in itself inspires me to keep working hard to find my sphere of usefulness in this world.
  • Other artists I have been privileged to know and be friends with. 
  • The incredible artists, poets, philosophers, and figures from the past. The enchanting poetry of Rumi and Hafiz, the works of Khalil Gibran, the jazz musicians of the 1930s and 40s like Ella Fitzgerald and Chet Baker, the peacemakers, the inventors, the hard workers, the mothers…and nature! 
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R: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve recieved? 

A: Gandhi said, “BE the change you wish to see in the world.” I know it’s a common quote, but seriously: BE the change for young women wanting to contribute their skills to the world through their projects. BE the change in how business, skill-sharing, service providing, and community empowerment are defined.

My mentor taught me to lean in to vulnerability and share from the heart when creating and performing. This advice is what encouraged me to create things that matter and heal myself through art.

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R: What’s a piece of advice you’d give to someone who was thinking of pursuing a similar career path to your own? 

A: You have to start somewhere. It might be with a few unpaid jobs, it might be doing work for which afterward you realize you didn’t have the right skill level, or it might be doing a free acting job just to get your face out there. But you have to start somewhere. At the time it might feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, but as weeks, months, and years pass, you’ll see how each of those initial stepping stones got you to where you are now and it will be part of the resilience you have moving forward.

Also, find a way – maybe through therapy – to release yourself from any shame you carry. Realize that you ARE good enough even when there’s hundreds or thousands who are ‘better’ at the job than you. 

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R: What are your top three tips for time management/productivity? 

  • First, set Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Time-based (SMART) goals!
  • Second, know yourself and how you work. Reflect and maybe write down your triggers or say aloud the scenarios in which you procrastinate the most. That way you can be aware of them, prevent them, and/or manage them.
  • Finally, find and use whatever tools help you stay organized, time-conscious, and efficient, and also feel ‘safe’ – like you’ve got your own back. Lists, diaries, a computer filing system, wall calendars, post it notes, stationary, meditation, mindfulness, podcasts, good sleep routines, quality people etc.

R: What are three new things that you appreciate now as a business owner, that you perhaps didn’t pay attention to before? 

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A: One, you’ve got to spend money to make money. It can be tough, but use your creativity and ingenuity where and when you can. 

Two, nothing comes easy and life doesn’t always feel fair — accept this and you’ll remove half the challenges. If it seems like it comes easy for some people… lucky them! But that’s not your life, so stop comparing and keep hustling!

Three, accept that sometimes you won’t have every single skill you need for the job ahead of you. That’s OK, avoid feeling shame or giving up. We live in a technological age. Research! Learn! Ask someone who does know! Pay someone in cheeseburgers or chocolate or some cash to give you a tutorial so that you can shadow the job and give it a try. 

“I try and do some visual art or write and play some music purely for the sake of expression and beauty with no external audience, client, or motivation in mind. This helps remind me of my love for the arts and grounds me in the sense that my passions must always be something I love first, and a ‘job’ second.”

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R: What is the Perth arts scene like? Who are some other Perth artists that should be on our radar?

A: While it might be one of the most isolated cities in the world, there is some pretty spectacular talent that comes out of Perth. Specifically, independent artists who have built themselves up from their bedrooms or student-sized bank accounts. 

  • When I first started university, I lived on campus with internationally-renowned photographer Jarrad Seng. I remember seeing him buying his first cameras and receiving packages in the mail containing new lenses or equipment he didn’t know how to use. Look at him now! (@jarradseng). 
  • Local Fremantle music producer St. South is a beautiful friend who has released EPs and an album of internationally acclaimed music, working hard from her home studio and teaching herself as she goes (@stsouth).
  • Two women from Perth started WOMPP and are becoming internationally recognized for their efforts to empower women in the world of electronic music whilst releasing their debut music (@feelsofficial @wompp)
  • Internationally trained theatre maker and performer Michelle Hall is a colleague, friend and big inspiration of mine who debuted her theatre epic The Dirty Mother in 2019 & 2020. Michelle de-stigmatises birth taboos and birth trauma in this work whilst displaying her plethora of talents in performance art. I have had the pleasure of working on the production team for this project (@thedirtymother)
  • Elham Eshragian is a visual and film artist who has created incredible audio-visual art installations on themes of displacement and identity against the backdrop of the 1978 Iranian revolution. Her works have recently been selected to showcase internationally and her and I are currently working on a new project called the Second Generation Collective (@ellieeshragianart)

…and so many others! How lucky I am to have seen these journeys and have such great examples of hard work and talent.

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R: On ‘off’ days, where you might not be feeling as confident as usual, what’s one thing you can do to press your “reset” button? 

A: On days like this, I always try and go back to the basics. One great method I learnt from Julia Cameron’s book ‘The Artist’s Way is to do morning pages: in the morning, write down everything that’s in your mind, and get it out on the page so that it is no longer taking up space in your head.

I also try and do some visual art or write and play some music purely for the sake of expression and beauty with no external audience, client, or motivation in mind. This helps remind me of my love for the arts and grounds me in the sense that my passions must always be something I love first, and a ‘job’ second, otherwise my heart won’t be in it and the end product won’t be the best. 

I reflect on the concept of ‘purpose’ and ask myself… Am I doing this to be rich and famous? No. Am I doing this because it is easy? No. Am I doing this because I was put on this earth with certain qualities and skills that can contribute to something greater than me? Yes!

This type of reflection always helps me let go of the stress or anxieties that come with work and helps boost my confidence. Also, babies, dogs, long walks, and hangs with quality people who raise your vibrations and really believe in your potential are great!

Interviewed by Roya Ansari, written by Jennifer Karami

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