Transgender South Asian performance duo Dark Matter performs poetry with political commentary

Performance addresses range of political issues


The show began with the duo remarking on the Paris terrorist attacks, providing an alternative interpretation of the week’s events.

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

Transgender South Asian performance art duo DarkMatter performed at the University Chapel Sunday, commenting on issues from the recent Paris terrorist attacks to colonialism and transgender rights.

Based in New York City, the duo is comprised of Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian. The two met at Stanford in 2009.

The show aims to “experiment in empathy,” Vaid-Menon said. They pointed to what they believed to be certain holes in society’s conception of feeling and expressing grievances.

“People think that feelings aren’t political, but they are,” Vaid-Menon said.

The show began with the duo providing a provocative interpretation of the week’s events in Paris. They pointed to France’s past as a “violent” empire and its citizens as displaying stronger xenophobic tendencies in recent years.

“We must acknowledge how some lives aren’t considered important and others are,” they said.

The introduction foreshadowed the show’s main content, in which Vaid-Menon and Balasubramanian discussed Western domination and imperialism.

“[There are] no real ways to hold the sincere and utter desperation that comes from diffuse violence,” Balasubramanian said.

The pair alternated between dual and solo performances of spoken word. The first set consisted of Vaid-Menon recounting his cultural heritage and experience in the United States while Balasubramanian chanted. They then progressed to a commentary on the political environment in the U.S.

Conner Roessler, vice president of education of the Queer Student Union, who hosted the performance, said these alternative viewpoints could have been received adversely by members of the University community.

“I was really scared because they are really radical, and U.Va., to me, doesn’t seem like radical institution,” the fourth-year College student said.

However, the event incited a surprising amount of excitement once promotion, Roessler said.

While the exact number of students who identify as LGTBQ at U.Va. is unknown, it is certain they are a minority population. As a result, this reaction was eye opening, Roessler said.

Roessler said since the LGBTQ Center receives “a lot of flack for only being cis, gay white men,” it was important to host an event that could speak to many members of the University community.

“I really wanted a diverse perspective and, as it’s getting close to trans-remembrance day, to have perspectives that are so key to understanding who we are as an LGBTQ and allied community,” Roessler said.

QSU co-sponsored the event with the LGBTQ Center and a number of University groups and departments, including the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, the Women, Gender and Sexuality Department, the Office of the Dean of Students and the Vice President and Chief of Student Affairs Officer.

Correction:  Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian use the pronoun "they/their."

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