Fighting Imperialism Through Science Fiction

Nancy Chen ’15
Contributing Writer

This Saturday, Oct. 26, Janani Balasubramanian came to Smith to lead a writing workshop, “The Empire Strikes Back to the Future: A Creative Workshop on Time Travel and Imperialism,” on science fiction and time in relationship to history. They also performed “Dear World, We Need Some Space!” a poetry reading about separatism and anti-imperialism.

Balasubramanian, who was invited to Smith by Weaving Voices, is a queer, South Asian performing artist. They are a part of the performing duo Dark Matter, write for the QTPOC (queer and trans people of color) online forum Black Girl Dangerous and are currently writing a science-fiction novel entitled H.

The hour-long workshop began with a creative writing exercise, asking the participants to think about what they would be if they were transported from one year to 100 or more into the future. It also included collaborative games, such as one person being a sculptor and the other the sculpture, and moving their body based on words such as ancestry, liberation and colonization. The last assignment was to write a poem relating to a topic that other participants created, which enhanced the connection and community in the room.

Later that evening, Balasubramanian performed various poems and read an excerpt of their book to a large crowd of both students and parents. They spoke about the effect of whiteness and their observations and experiences as a queer person of color. Their performance was moving and empowering, clearly speaking truth to many people of color in the audience.  The performance concluded with Balasubramanian selling their and their creative partner’s chapbooks of 20 poems, as well as taking questions from audience members.

“Having Janani Balasubramanian at Smith makes me rethink what it means to be a young person interested in social justice. Knowing that Balasubramanian performs and runs workshops in places all across the U.S. at such a young age, I want to challenge myself to be more proactive in participating and building community in the social justice world outside of Smith,” said Elaine Kuoch ’15.

“We were so glad we were able to bring Janani Balasubramanian here to Smith,” said Kuoch, Yolandi Cruz ’16, Rebecca Lee ’15 and Monica Munoz ’15, the organizers of Weaving Voices. “They’re not only an incredible artist, but they speak of so many truths that many of us Smithies could identify with. Their words resonated with us as science fiction lovers, as queer identified people, as persons of color, as Hindus, as artists, as poets and as lovers.

“And bringing Balasubramanian here fits perfectly with our mission as Weaving Voices. As a group that strives to build critically conscious spaces and privilege the narratives of voices normally silenced in everyday life, having them speak here is so important for not only public awareness of these critical perspectives, but [working] as an affirmation of all of our complexity as well.”

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