Race, gender and lipstick: in conversation with Alok Vaid-Menon

We catch up with the US-based performance artiste, Alok-Vaid Menon, ahead of a performance in Bengaluru  

Anagha M Published :  12th May 2017 07:00 AM   |   Published :   |  12th May 2017 07:00 AM

Alok Vaid-Menon

Clad in sky blue lipstick and a multi-coloured dress, Alok-Vaid Menon just wrapped an event in Mumbai, titled Watching You/ Watching Me. “I’m always so overwhelmed by the love and support I get in India,” says the US-based gender non-conforming writer, and performance artiste who prefers to be addressed by the gender neutral pronoun — they. This Sunday, Alok’s poems will be showcased at the Books & Brews event at The Humming Tree. 

The poems that Alok will perform create a dialogue about being stared at in public spaces, “People often talk about the physical or verbal abuse faced, but staring also hurts. I’m going to talk about the violence of being looked at, without being touched.” The narrative is aggressive and non conformist. Alok feels, as a minority, reading other minority voices is very important, “I make it a point to read more diverse writers, and not be restricted to only straight white male narratives, which is what the media is saturated with.”

Alok’s adolescence in Texas, as an Indian, was fraught with confusion and alienation. “While you could talk to your parents about racism, when it came to issues of gender, I had no one to reach out to.” That’s when the artiste created an alter ego online and started writing poetry and realised that the Internet is the only place to find some solace and a community. 
What you looking at?

“Fashion is my armour,” says the artiste, adding, “When I look in the mirror, I can't control the way my body looks, but I can control my clothes.” The style is colourful, flamboyant and feminine, and a fashion line is also in the works. “Through the collection, I want to explore how we can dress if we had no restrictions from society, no rules,” Alok explains about the upcoming range. Inspiration stems from everywhere. Alok follows artistes on Instagram and feels the platform has revolutionised fashion and individual expressions of style.


While some may feel Alok’s work is controversial, all the poet is fighting for is basic dignity, “Everything I speak about is automatically political. Even if I speak of something mundane like walking on the street, it is a political statement. So, for me, the lines between political and personal are blurry.” Straddling two different cultures and countries, the only place Alok feels at home is on stage while performing. 

The event will be opened by city-based Maya the Drag Queen and the Aravani Art Project, who fight for transgender rights.

Rs 600. Sunday, 2 pm. At The Humming Tree, Indira Nagar. Details: 9066021808