Friday evening, once again students were packed into the Barn to witness another performance this week. Lately, these Barn events have not been as common, and so to be at another high-profile event like this was wonderful. The reason for this occasion was a Spoken Word performance by New York artist Bex Kwan, aka Bxk, whose work focuses on issues of race, gender and politics which was hosted by the LGBT Resource center in conjunction with Asian Pacific Students Program (APSP).
The event started off with an open mic, which allowed any student to come up and read work they had written. There were about six readers in total for this first portion of the event, with students from different backgrounds performing their work. The poems ranged thematically, with some being political protest poems, and others about personal difficulties. Most of the poems tied to the event by exploring ideas about sexuality and gender. Moreover, all individuals who attended the event received a free voucher for food from the Barn.
However, the pinnacle of the evening was when Bxk took the stage. Their performance started with a poem about their experience as a transgender teen in New York, and was followed up by poems about their mother and their roots as a second-generation Chinese-Singaporean artist. The audience hung on every word they uttered and every gesture of their hands. Perhaps the most surprising part of his performance was how their words were always complemented with hand gestures or body movement, which added significance to every movement on stage. While the poems were incredibly powerful and well-composed, the event did have a fair share of laughter. In between poems, Kwan would go on tangents about their father or random stories about them in New York. For example, Kwan related a story about how their father sends them devotionals every morning by text message, and how these devotionals are always out of the blue.
Some of the poems also relied on a level of audience participation, working on call-and-response rhythms. Bex would say a phrase, and the audience would respond collectively with a phrase. For example, there was a point where Kwan suggested that every individual take a minute and think about how some system of oppression (colonialism, sexism, racism) has affected their own bodies, and then share it with the person next to them. According to Kwan, their main focus was on “what is means for Asians to be politicized, and how we politicize ourselves.” There was a stark difference between the way the audience reacted to the initial open mic and the second portion. During the open mic, there were still snippets of conversation which could be heard. When Kwan took the stage, the audience listened, rapt on every word they said. There were moments when they would abruptly stop and stare into the audience, and the silence was palpable.
Kwan’s performance revolved around many diverse issues, such as the legacy of colonialism, and issues about race, class and gender. Interpolated within these larger political concerns were them’s experiences as a transgender individual, and the struggles that come with it.
This event was incredibly enlightening, and definitely highlighted many issues that pertain to different communities. According to Kat Zoque, a third-year ethnic studies major and one of the main organizers, the event was “about bringing together our creative energy, and bringing people together through art to build our community.”