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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Darkmatter performance stuns

Published: November 14, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian, poets and activists known together as the trans South Asian political performance art duo Darkmatter, delivered an incredible performance at Chum’s Coffee House last night that blew the roof off. The event was organized by the media club Brandeis Television (BTV) and Triskelion, Brandeis’ student resource for empowering LGBTQ members of the Brandeis community. At least 100 Brandeis students and other guests packed into the venue for the performance, and were all at rapt attention for its entirety. The event was opened by BTV President Rohan Narayanan ’15, who described Darkmatter as two of his “poetry and activist heroes.” Narayanan also performed two pieces of his own slam poetry, about gun violence and frustration with portrayals of Indian Americans in media. The pieces were both passionate, well-written and very moving.

Vaid-Menon and Balasubramanian then took the stage. Both of them performed biting and intense poetry based around themes such as racism, gender nonconformity, colonialism, anti-capitalism and much more, and both are brilliant. I was first introduced to their work through the medium of Twitter, on which Darkmatter is active in online organizing and promoting good causes. Since then, I have watched most of their performances that are on YouTube and finally saw them perform live and met them in person at MIT last year. I am a white, heterosexual, cisgender male; Darkmatter’s poetry is not “for” me. Yet experiencing Vaid-Menon and Balasubramanian’s work, both in poetry and political activism, have been essential in the progression of my own politics. Specifically, finding ways to contribute in ways that actually redistribute power and resources to marginalized and oppressed people.

Thursday’s performance was just as incredible. Poems Darkmatter performed included “Breakup Letter to Stanford University,” which deconstructs the idea of universities as places of power, and “Boston,” about the use of gay rights to continue structural racism in America. Both are fantastically powerful and cut to the very core of what “activism” should be and is. In each piece, the duo made it clear what their goals were: that they represented themselves and their communities, and they had no interest in conforming to any sort of social norm created by systems of imperialism and oppression. The work of Darkmatter is an antithesis to American imperialism, capitalism, heteronormativity, white supremacy, gender binaries and most every social norm that may exist. But the poems they write are calls to arms, meant to rise up, not to defeat.

Their words are as empowering as they are heartbreaking, funny as they are bittersweet. These feelings were enhanced by the intimate setting of Chum’s. Audience members cheered and snapped throughout the performance, obviously moved and energized, as the raucous applause after every poem confirmed. Some attendees were even brought to tears during more personal pieces. More than anything, people celebrated the fact that marginalized people and experiences were not only being voiced, but also celebrated by the duo, which made the event that much more extraordinary.

The event ended with a question and answer section, during which Vaid-Menon and Balasubramanian gave advice on activism and relating to others and shared more personal stories. There was even an educational moment when a self-described “straight white dude” (not me) asked how to be more active in issues Darkmatter presented. Overall, it was an experience that ought to happen more at universities like Brandeis; one that affirmed and promoted values many Brandeisians hold dear, in a way that circumvented a system many also see as broken or ineffective. I do not really have anything more to say, other than wow.