To read about the rest of the Culture Shifters, including comedian Bowen Yang and entrepreneur Erica Chidi, return to the complete list here. When I last saw Alok, we broke bread at a candlelit dinner of fellow artists to discuss creative blocks. We spoke over an exquisite meal prepared by the host and chef Lucien Zayan, the founder of Invisible Dog Art Center in New York City. In this space, Alok has produced evocative, mesmerizing performances.
I first witnessed the fierce, poetic beauty of Alok’s powerful presence in their show “LOVE HURTS”; the way they threaded together movement, poetry, technology, and music reverberated long afterward. Today, Alok must virtually share their multitudinous selves — a 29-year-old nonbinary performer, poet, writer, public intellectual, activist, and fashion icon. The breadth of their art has not diminished in this period, and Alok continually creates a world of abundance online. Their Instagram is a site of artistic and political revelation.
Where every post is embedded with care, vulnerability, and truth. Their series of Book Reports showcases the breadth of their reading, teaching us about historical subjects of interest, like the history of Black dandyism or colonial eugenics. As they work as a continual advocate and organizer to raise funds for social justice campaigns, often centered on the livelihoods of trans folks of color, Alok has modeled for numerous brands and magazines, flexing their exquisite sense of fashion and vivid, unapologetic embodiment of femme.
“What society sees as academia, activism, art, theater, none of those matter as distinctions to me,” Alok said in a video call. “I feel like I’m more genre nonconforming than gender nonconforming. So many people foreground my gender. That’s just so boring to me because honestly, the only identity that I’ve ever chosen for myself is an artist. But how does it feel to be deprived of performing for a live audience, which is so intrinsic to their artistry?