Spoken word artist Guante helps students connect art, activism


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Two-time National Poetry Slam champion Guante performed spoken word poetry Wednesday night at the Dittmar Gallery. Co-sponsored by SHAPE and Take Back The Night, the event sought to raise awareness about issues like sexual assault and rape culture.

Mark Ficken, Reporter

If Guante is an introvert, he doesn’t let it show when he performs. He uses hand gestures and voice inflection to convey his message in each piece.

“Spoken word is not poetry reading,” he said. “Spoken word is a community. It’s about breaking down that wall and building community.”

The Minnesota-based artist gave a performance Wednesday night at the Dittmar Gallery in Norris University Center as a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Week. The event, titled “Burning Boxers,” was co-sponsored by Take Back the Night and SHAPE.

Guante’s work attempts to bridge the gap between art and activism, focusing on race, class, rape culture and gender roles.

“The whole point of the week is to raise awareness about sexual assault and to encourage people to create a safe space for survivors,” said Lizz Bohl, Take Back the Night co-chair and a Weinberg junior. “This is just to get people thinking about awareness and sexual assault.”

As a part of his work, the two-time National Poetry Slam champion spends time talking to mostly male high school students about what needs to be done to end rape culture and address racism.

“What I try to do is step beyond ‘Hey, racism is bad,’” he said.

He said that in these conversations, the students never push back mostly because they never thought of the issues.

This work also inspires his poetry as well, he explained after performing his poem “Starfish.” He said that, while most people prefer face-to-face activism, there needs to be a larger shift for any change to occur.

“We need people doing that work — that face-to-face work.” he said, “but we also need people to do the institutional work. … You’re at an interesting point in your life where you have an option to think in those terms.”

Because he speaks from his own experiences, Guante approaches rape culture through the role of men.

Dittmar student curator and Weinberg junior Sinead Lopez said his perspective is something that needs to be heard more often.

“He has a really necessary voice, and a lot of what he was talking about was very thought provoking, especially in terms of having men engaging with other men about masculinity,” she said.

Guante also performed several poems about the role of race and masculinity in his career. Several of his poems recount everyday events, like handshakes and advertisements, which he uses to illustrate larger problems.

He said this is what connects his art to activism.

“The little things you have to deal with build up, and this shows that the little things are always connected to the big things,” he said.

Guante encouraged students to delve into spoken word, describing it as a democratic system where anyone is open to make comments and applaud throughout the performance.

He said that the events in each of his poems may not always be true, but that the messages they convey are honest.

“Sharing pieces of yourself night after night is tiring and exhausting, and, because it’s tiring and exhausting, that’s why we need to do it,” he said.

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Twitter: @Mark_Ficken