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This month, Nirosha Balukamar -fourth-year undergraduate student at Queen’s- writes a powerful piece on how the art of the spoken word can be used to create connections and understandings. Nirosha sees poetry as a tool to educate, empower and engage others in the conversation by raising awareness and fostering environments for constructive dialogue.
My voice is my strength and my strength lies in my voice.
If you know me, you’ll know that one of my favourite phrases is “let’s decolonize education.” I am a huge believer in embracing the untraditional and unconventional ways of learning, of challenging the systems in place and trying to reimagine the way in which we communicate and educate. I am a spoken word artist and I use my art as a platform to advocate and empower others. I use my art to connect and empathize, to create understanding and bridge barriers, to overcome boundaries and differences. You see for me, the arts are a means to foster intergenerational dialogue. I truly believe that when I perform, I am able to reach individuals in ways that our traditional systems cannot.
It is important to understand that these mediums hold value. We live in an education system that tries to confine us and produce identical beings. We are taught how to learn, we are constricted on what is seen as valid. These Western and Eurocentric models continue to reinforce negative power dynamics. We limit ourselves and the conversations we have by ensuring people follow a certain status quo. We silence creativity and self-expression, we fear the unknown. My advocacy for the arts as a valid form of communication lies with the importance of accepting untraditional ways of learning and engaging.
For me, it’s more than just reimagining the way in which we communicate, but it’s about reinventing these methods- understanding that storytelling, poetry and music are indigenous forms of knowledge and communication. It’s about honouring how my ancestors across the Caribbean and South Asia, engaged and celebrated the arts throughout history- from the plantations to the scriptures. To understand that wisdom and knowledge come in different forms, is the point in which we can begin to decolonize our minds.
One of the most powerful moments for me was when I was working for the United Nations this summer. I had the opportunity to perform at the UN Reception and I was incredibly nervous because this was the most high-profile audience I had ever performed to. My poetry is usually shared amongst youth for advocacy and empowerment purposes. I wasn’t sure how my spoken word would be received in a venue filled with professionals that wrote reports and conducted research- I wasn’t sure how far my creativity would reach. It was this performance that made me realize that my art could one day translate into my career. After my performance, I was approached by an individual who had experienced domestic abuse and expressed how much my words had resonated with her; how she had felt like I had written it for her and her story. I then had another individual- completely different story, from a completely different country, approach me to tell me that he had to walk away for a moment because it was as if I was speaking specifically to him and some of his struggles with recovering from alcoholism. At that moment, I realized the power of poetry. How one set of words were able to connect and bring reflection to two complete strangers. I realized that in allowing this to be a form of communication, we can not only reach a wider audience but we can invoke emotions, creating spaces to foster dialogue.
When we talk about wanting to make effective change, I saw the challenges for myself this summer within the UN and governmental bodies. The laws may appear to be perfect, but if they are not respected, implemented or justified, then there is no actual change to take place. The truth is, that a lot of the issues lie within societal attitudes and behaviours. Systems have been created to keep certain groups marginalized and we continue to maintain these, whether or not our policies are discriminatory. Changes in laws, conducting research and producing reports, won’t change attitudes. But reimagining how we communicate and how we can use it as a tool to create connections and understandings, could be the key that we need to helping bridge these gaps in humanity. To make people feel, to want to care and listen- to create change, we need to communicate.
You can experience one of Nirosha’s poems here: To the Person on the Other Side of the Mirror: What Do You See? – Nirosha Balakumar.