Indu Harikumar’s illustrations of stories of Tinder dates explore the nuances of relationships in the age of the internet
IIndu Harikumar’s apartment on the outskirts of Mumbai was the 19th house in the city to get an internet connection in 1995. She has used the web to engage with people ever since. So it was natural that she took to the internet to create and display her art—which explores love, sexuality, desire, and vulnerability.
Currently, her illustrations of stories of Indians on Tinder, titled ‘100 Indian Tinder Tales (100ITT)’ is on display in Germany’s Kunsthalle Bremen art museum. However, she once had her doubts. “I thought this project was doomed from the very beginning,” she says. “Why would anyone want to share intimate stories with me, a stranger, on the internet?” Instead, 100ITT went viral, with people sharing stories that ranged from rom-com to risqué, and Harikumar found herself flooded with requests to illustrate them. Her page on Facebook and Instagram became a platform where she found validation for her art and her storytellers found validation for their experiences.
She has since found that listening to people on the internet is a potent source for fresh ideas. “Listening to people’s stories, and seeing them written in their own unique articulations, allowed half-baked ideas to become concepts for new projects.” She discovered that it only took someone to begin with a story of shame and fear for others to be eased into it. Her Instagram page (@induviduality), where she posts her artwork, has become not only a place for artistic expression but also a platform for dialogue on body positivity and abuse.
Harikumar’s approach is different. Instead of pontificating, her illustrations give space to multiple dialogues about sex and sexuality, something she feels the internet has made possible. The same project could not have materialised in print, which suffers from too many gatekeepers, she feels. “On the social media, I am relatively free.” She began with illustrating stories cautiously. The characters would often be silhouetted, the subject hinted at. It has now evolved into bold depictions.
Her illustrated tales of sex and desire have inspired flattering reviews from the international press, but such reviewers often find it difficult to reconcile the frank sex talk with their cursory knowledge of arranged marriages. Slowly, though, her art is opening up a dialogue about sex that forces it out of the frameworks of romanticised fantasy or stereotypes about how people must have sex in a saree-clad third world country.