Alok Vaid-Menon

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Alok Vaid-Menon
Alok Vaid-Menon 2017 Fashion Collection.jpg
Born (1991-07-01) July 1, 1991 (age 29)
EducationStanford University (BA, MA)
OccupationWriter, performance artist, media personality
Known forLGBTQ rights advocacy
Notable work
Beyond The Gender Binary (2020)
WebsiteOfficial website

Alok Vaid-Menon (born July 1, 1991) is an American writer, performance artist, and media personality who performs under the moniker ALOK. Alok is gender non-conforming and transfeminine and uses singular they pronouns.[1][2]

As a mixed-media artist Alok uses poetry, comedy, performance, drag, lecture, sound-art, fashion design, self-portraiture, and social media to explore themes of gender, race, trauma, belonging, and the human condition.[3] Their artistry responds to violence against trans and gender non-conforming people, calling for freedom from constraining gender norms.[2] They advocate for bodily diversity, gender neutrality, and self-determination.[4][5] Alok has presented creative work in over 40 countries.[6]

In 2019, they advocated for the complete degendering of fashion and beauty industries.[7]

Early life and education[edit]

Vaid-Menon grew up in College Station, Texas as the child of Malayali and Punjabi immigrant parents from Malaysia and India.[8] Growing up they were bullied for their race and gender expression.[9] They felt that they were unable to come out on their own terms because as a visibly gender non-conforming person they didn't know they were different until they were punished for it and told who they were.[10] They developed their art practice at a young age in response to this harassment. "Making art gave me the permission to live. I needed somewhere to put the pain."[9] They began to use poetry and style to interrupt other peoples’ assumptions, challenge shame, and declare themself on their own terms.[11] Because they weren't able to express themself visually for fear of safety, they began to share their art online and received supportive responses.[12]

In 2019 Alok returned to College Station to host a Pride celebration with local LGBTQ community in honor of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.[13]

After leaving Texas, Alok attended Stanford University where they graduated with a BA in feminist, gender, and sexuality studies[14] and comparative studies in race and ethnicity, as well as a masters in sociology in 2013.

Career[edit]

Performance[edit]

Alok's performance style is known for its stream of consciousness, soundscapes, political comedy, and emotional range.[15] They remark that their style, like their identity, is in constant flux and refuses easy categorization[10] and believe that performance is one of the only spaces where people can actually be real anymore.[16] In this way, for Alok, performance is about world-making where the audience can relate to one another with "a commitment to vulnerability, play, interdependence, and magic".[10] For Alok, the power of performance is precisely that it is ephemeral and can never be done again the same way.[17] They also use performance as a mode of pedagogy to teach theories and histories that have been submerged.[18]

For Alok, living is a modality of art.[15]

Alok in 2018.

There are several themes that reoccur in Alok's work. They unpack the dynamics of transmisogyny, reflect on the continued attack on trans and gender non-conforming people, and shift the representation of TGNC people.[19][17] In 2017, Alok released their inaugural book of poetry, Femme in Public, a meditation on harassment against transfeminine people.[20] They toured a show associated with the book across the world, partnering with local trans artists and organizations, to advocate for trans justice.[15] In Vice they write, "the majority of people still believe that trans is what we look like, and not who we are. We are reduced to the spectacle of our appearance."[19] Alok advocates for transfeminine people to be regarded in their full personhood: "There is a long history of trans-femme bodies being reduced to metaphor, to symbol…and seen as stand-ins for ideas, fantasies, and nightmares."[2] They draw attention to the fact that even though gender non-conforming people are the most visible in public, they remain the most neglected by the mainstream LGBT movement.[4]

Alok is committed to challenging what they call "the international crisis of loneliness"[21] by creating public spaces for processing pain and establishing meaningful connection.[22][23] This work includes re-imagining and deploying technology as a conduit for intimacy.[24] In 2019, Alok completed an artist-in-residence program at The Invisible Dog Art Center, where they performed a piece entitled "Strangers are Potential Friends" and hosted a "Valentine's Cry-In" to create a space for public grief and explore alternative forms of intimacy and interdependence.[25] Alok facilitates "Feelings Workshops" across the world to develop transformative ways of interacting with ourselves, one another, and as a way of promoting emotional justice and wellness.[26]

They challenge Western rationalism and an emphasis on reductive categories and instead insist on the complexity and enormity of everyone and everything.[27] They want to create work and ways of relating to each other that are less about being understood, and more about being felt. They believe that art is one of the places we can come closest to approximating truth. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune they write, "The problem with a category is that you reduce something as celestial as a human being into a word. Words only approximate truth, and art is where we go when we actually want truth.[28] In “Trans Self-Imaging Praxis, Decolonizing Photography, and the Work of Alok Vaid-Menon,” Ace Lehner explains that there is so much to the non-binary world of art then what meets the eyes. “As an identity and an analytic, trans offers a compelling challenge to photographic discourse” (page.1)[29]. The artist Alok Vaid-Menon has featured many trans people in their artwork; Vaid-Menon explains that it can be hard to exemplify gender through a piece of art, however, they have done the most to overcome this obstacle and it can be seen through their work. However, Vaid-Menon does not only portray their work through photography, but they also write, design clothing a clothing line, and create videos explaining and encouraging others. Vaid-Menon has also been featured in: ““Beauty Always Recognizes Itself”: A Roundtable on Sins Invalid” by Patricia Berne, Jamal T. Lewis et al. In this journal article, each artist reflects on what beauty, injustice, discrimination, and how it has impacted their artwork. Vaid-Menon mentions that, “As a gender non-conforming, transfeminine person, I am often told that I am ugly…” (page. 242)[30]. They have since then chosen to challenge their artwork to display these issues, however, to step out and do this there needs to be support, even in the LGBTQ+ community. Vaid-Menon shares that beauty can be a cruel arrangement of rules that must be followed. Another great piece of work is found in their powerful statements made in, “Fashion's Genderless Future,” Vaid-Menon comes out and tells that there needs to be honesty and redirecting to complicity of people. Removing the stereotype of there being only two genders, they examine what needs to be done to normalize the respect of non-binary and LGBTQ+ fashion to “degendered the fashion community,” (Menon, M.10:00 min)[31]. Gender neutrality in fashion needs to be about creating possibility and not all about gender. Valid-Menon has also written a book that is full of reasons why people need to view gender as more than the traditional black and white. In “Beyond the Gender Binary,” they state, “The gender binary is cultural belief that there are only two distinct and opposite genders: man and woman. This belief is upheld by a system of power that exists to create conflict and division, not to celebrate creativity and diversity” (page.1)[32]. Vaid-Menon focuses and points out the many flaws that are consistently in the thoughts of people around the world. Their main goal is to transform and challenge a person to see beyond man and female genders.

[33]

Fashion design[edit]

Alok Fashion Collection 2018.

Alok has designed three gender-neutral fashion collections, which are known for their joyful color and celebration of skirts and dresses as gender neutral.[34] Fashion design became a "materialization of the life that [they were] living," a way to encapsulate what they were writing and thinking.[35] Their designs were at first inspired by imagining what they would wear if they didn't have to fear violence.[36] In their latest work, they are using fashion to challenge what kind of aesthetics are seen as natural and what are seen as artificial.[37]

Modeling[edit]

Alok has walked for several fashion brands for New York Fashion Week including Opening Ceremony,[38] Studio 189,[39] and Chromat.[40] They have modeled for several brands including Opening Ceremony,[41] Harry's, and Polaroid Eyewear. They have appeared in fashion magazines and editorials including VOGUE,[42] Vogue Italia,[43] BUST Magazine, Wussy Magazine,[9] and Paper Magazine.[4]

Publications[edit]

  • Femme in Public (2017)[44]
  • "Entertainment Value" in Unwatchable (Rutgers University Press, 2019)[45]
  • Beyond The Gender Binary (2020)[46]

Selected live performances[edit]

  • 2014: Queer New York International Arts Festival
  • 2015: Lincoln Center La Casita Festival
  • 2015, 2016: Public Theater Under the Radar Festival Festival
  • 2017: Centrale Fies Drodesera Festival
  • 2017: Naked Heart Festival Toronto
  • 2018: Keynote Performance - Transgender Europe Conference, Antwerp
  • 2018: Keynote Performance - Gender Unbound Festival Austin
  • 2019: Spoken Fest Mumbai
  • 2019: Keynote Performance—OUTShine EGALE Conference Fredericton, New Brunswick

TV and film appearances[edit]

  • Refinery 29 "Love Me" (2016)
  • "The Trans List" (HBO, 2016)
  • "Random Acts of Flyness" (HBO, 2018)[47]
  • "Gender Diversity & Identity In Queertopia" (Backlight National Dutch Documentary, 2019)
  • "What I Wish You Knew: Mental Health Roundtable" (Netflix, 2020)
  • A Little Late with Lilly Singh (NBC, Season 2, Episode 16, 2021)[48]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • Live Works Performance Act Award (2017)[49]
  • Vogue: 9 Trans + Gender Non-Conforming Writers You Should Know (2018)[50]
  • LogoTV Pride 30 (2018)[51]
  • NBC Pride 50 alongside James Baldwin and Audre Lorde (2019)[52]
  • OUT Magazine 100 (2019)[53]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Reports, Alok Vaid-Menon via Creative Time (2015-10-13). "Greater transgender visibility hasn't helped nonbinary people – like me | Alok Vaid-Menon". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  2. ^ a b c Thomas, Skye Arundhati (2017-03-17). ""I Understand the Project of Trans-Feminism To Be About the Liberation of All Genders": An Interview With the Poet and Performance Artist Alok Vaid-Menon". The Caravan. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  3. ^ "ABOUT". ALOK. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  4. ^ a b c Sharma, Jeena (2019-03-01). "ALOK: 'Beauty Is About Looking Like Yourself'". PAPER. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  5. ^ Lubitz, Rachel. "The Body Hair Movement Isn't All Peach Fuzz & Happy Trails". www.refinery29.com. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  6. ^ "Alok Vaid-Menon Will Not 'Tone it Down'". www.advocate.com. 2019-08-28. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  7. ^ "Why Genderless Fashion Is the Future". The Business of Fashion. 2019-11-22. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  8. ^ Sarkar, Monica. "Life as a transgender person of color: 'I erased a part of me'". CNN. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  9. ^ a b c Smith, Dakota (2019-06-19). "How Art Created Alok Vaid-Menon". WUSSY MAG. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  10. ^ a b c Wagenknecht, Addie. "Alok On Gender Binaries And Their New Fashion Collection". Forbes. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  11. ^ Fox-Suliaman, Jasmine. "6 Transgender Models Talk Activism, Identity, and Style". Who What Wear. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  12. ^ "Looking Beyond The Gender Binaries With Queer Performance Artist Alok Vaid-Menon". Verve Magazine. 2018-10-23. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  13. ^ "Beyond the binary: Alok Vaid Menon is creating art — and safe spaces — for the gender-nonconforming community". NBC News. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  14. ^ "Alumni | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies". feminist.stanford.edu. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  15. ^ a b c Levsky, Danielle (2018-06-20). "Life as a Form of Art: Meditations on Alok Vaid-Menon and LaSaia Wade's Femme in Public". Scapi Magazine. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  16. ^ "Alok Vaid-Menon wants you to embrace vulnerability this Valentine's day". Document Journal. 2019-02-14. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  17. ^ a b Ross, Chelsea (2018-08-28). "Alok Vaid-Menon: Femme in Public, Now". Sixty Inches From Center. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  18. ^ Liu, Crystal (2017-07-31). "Justice, not visibility: Alok Vaid-Menon". EXBERLINER.com. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  19. ^ a b Jagota, Vrinda (2017-12-24). "Alok Vaid-Menon on Building a Transfeminine Future". Vice. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  20. ^ "Femme in Public (physical book)". ALOK. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  21. ^ "Who Is Alok Vaid-Menon – And Why Is It Important You Know Their Name?". FASHION Magazine. 2019-04-09. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  22. ^ "Alok Vaid-Menon wants you to embrace vulnerability this Valentine's day". Document Journal. 2019-02-14. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  23. ^ "Unflinchingly femme: an interview with Alok Vaid-Menon". Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  24. ^ Wortham, Jenna (2018-11-16). "On Instagram, Seeing Between the (Gender) Lines". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  25. ^ "Alok Vaid-Menon wants you to embrace vulnerability this Valentine's day". Document Journal. 2019-02-14. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  26. ^ "ALOK: Invisible Dog Artist-in-Residence". The Invisible Dog Art Center. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  27. ^ "Alok Vaid Menon". www.platform-mag.com. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  28. ^ Hawbaker, K. T. "Performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon on why identity categories don't work — but stories do". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  29. ^ Lehner, Ace (2019-11-11). "Trans Self-Imaging Praxis, Decolonizing Photography, and the Work of Alok Vaid-Menon". Refract: An Open Access Visual Studies Journal. 2 (1). doi:10.5070/r72145857. ISSN 2640-9429.
  30. ^ Berne, Patricia; Lewis, Jamal T.; Milbern, Stacey; Shanks, Malcolm; Vaid, Alok; Wong, Alice (2018). ""Beauty Always Recognizes Itself": A Roundtable on Sins Invalid". WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly. 46 (1–2): 241–251. doi:10.1353/wsq.2018.0002. ISSN 1934-1520.
  31. ^ Alok V Menon on Fashion's Genderless Future | #BoFVOICES 2019, retrieved 2021-04-09
  32. ^ Lehner, Ace (2019-11-11). "Trans Self-Imaging Praxis, Decolonizing Photography, and the Work of Alok Vaid-Menon". Refract: An Open Access Visual Studies Journal. 2 (1). doi:10.5070/r72145857. ISSN 2640-9429.
  33. ^ "Trans Self-Imaging Praxis, Decolonizing Photography, and the Work of Alok Vaid-Menon". Refract: An Open Access Visual Studies Journal. 2 (1). 2019-11-11. doi:10.5070/r72145857. ISSN 2640-9429. |first= missing |last= (help)
  34. ^ Vita, Anita Dolce (2019-11-07). "Interview: Artist and Designer Alok Vaid-Menon". dapperQ | Queer Style. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  35. ^ Vita, Anita Dolce (2019-11-07). "Interview: Artist and Designer Alok Vaid-Menon". dapperQ | Queer Style. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  36. ^ "Who Is Alok Vaid-Menon – And Why Is It Important You Know Their Name?". FASHION Magazine. 2019-04-09. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  37. ^ Vita, Anita Dolce (2019-11-07). "Interview: Artist and Designer Alok Vaid-Menon". dapperQ | Queer Style. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  38. ^ "Opening Ceremony Spring 2019 Ready-to-Wear Fashion Show". Vogue. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  39. ^ "Studio 189 Spring 2020 Ready-to-Wear Fashion Show". Vogue. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  40. ^ "Chromat 2020 NYFW Training Session". CHROMAT. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  41. ^ Dazed (2019-05-31). "Chella Man designs a radically inclusive collection for Opening Ceremony". Dazed. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  42. ^ Bailey-Gates, Christian Allaire, Michael (2018-06-25). "The Faces of New York City Pride". Vogue. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  43. ^ "La collezione di Alok contro gli stereotipi di genere". Vogue Italia (in Italian). Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  44. ^ "Femme in Public Poetry Chapbook (PDF)". ALOK. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  45. ^ "Unwatchable". Rutgers University Press. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  46. ^ "Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon: 9780593094655 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books". PenguinRandomhouse.com. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  47. ^ Herman, Alison (2018-08-20). "Terence Nance Is Indescribable". The Ringer. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  48. ^ Watch A Little Late with Lilly Singh Episode: Alok Vaid-Menon - NBC.com, retrieved 2021-03-27
  49. ^ "Alok Vaid-Menon". SXSW 2020 Schedule. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  50. ^ Brara, Noor. "9 Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Writers You Should Know". Vogue. Retrieved 2021-03-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  51. ^ Alok Vaid-Menon: The Disrupter on LOGO30, Logo – via www.youtube.com
  52. ^ "NBC Out presents Pride50: LGBTQ people who are making the community proud". NBC News. Retrieved 2021-03-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  53. ^ "The Out100 Contributors of the Year". www.out.com. 25 November 2019. Retrieved 2021-03-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links[edit]