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An art project features stories that celebrate body positivity

Artist Indu Harikumar’s crowd-sourced art project – Body of Stories – features 16 tales that reinforce the idea of embracing every body type

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Mar 30, 2017 16:27 IST
An illustration from Body of Stories based on an anecdote about looking at yourself in the mirror.
An illustration from Body of Stories based on an anecdote about looking at yourself in the mirror. (Courtesy: Indu Harikumar )

Last year, visual artist Indu Harikumar’s (37) crowd-sourced project, 100 Tinder Tales, went viral. She illustrated people’s experiences on the dating app, and found it exhausting. It was a bag full of stories — funny, painful and shocking. “I was dealing with people’s intimate emotions and, in a way, it took a toll on me,” she says.

Yet, the exhaustion hasn’t stopped Harikumar. In January this year, she launched her next big idea — Body of Stories. With this project, Harikumar is exploring stories that deal with issues of body shaming, body positivity, and colour and gender bias.

The idea stemmed from a conversation she had with her friend’s four-year-old son. “My friend was telling him how broccoli is cauliflower’s sister in the vegetable world. He said, ‘Broccoli must be the brother because it is darker than cauliflower. Girls are fairer, and broccoli is dark.’ I was stumped. These ideas of colour and gender bias are ingrained in us from a young age,” she says.

Read more: Meet the artist who’s turning 100 stories from Tinder into art

#BodyOfStories @achiyaarana from Delhi shares her story. "I am from Himachal. A Pahari. Every knows that Pahari girls are fair skinned. But I am brown or 'Kaali' as world calls me. I learned at a very young age that fair girls ARE beautiful. I wanted to be beautiful. So when I was 10 or 12 yrs old I started applying a lot of talcum powder to appear white. One summer afternoon, I was playing with my friend and started to sweat, the powder came off and my friend looked up and saw my brown skin. She sniggered, "Look at this fake, such a talcum powder kaali she is! She wants to be fair and beautiful!" And then she laughed out loud. That incident followed by several in school and college made me believe that brown was not beautiful. I was teased relentlessly through out my school and college days. I hated my skin colour and my life. I used all sorts of fairness creams. Thank God, my dad wasn't super rich else I would have gone for skin peeling at the age of 16 or 17. Nothing was exciting, not the first day of college, not even when someone professed love. I knew they had been rejected by all the beautiful, fair girls and that's why they were now approaching me. Why would anyone love a kaali? (1/2) #illustration #art #bodyimage #selflove #brownisbeautiful #delhi #india #bodies #stories

A post shared by Indu Harikumar (@induviduality) on

So, she shared an introductory post on Instagram asking for entries, and her mailbox has since been flooded with stories from across the subcontinent.

As for the art, Harikumar has used famous European paintings as the basis of the illustrations. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and Mona Lisa, The Birth of Venus by Botticelli and Edvard Munch’s Scream are some of the iconic paintings that have inspired Harikumar for her series. “I hand draw everything and mix different mediums. While you’ll see shades of a lot of European paintings in the series, you’ll also find adaptation of Raja Ravi Varma’s work,” she says.

Read more: A photo catalogue is highlighting colour politics one skin tone at a time

Harikumar believes that bringing art out of the gallery and into social media is the only way forward. Online platforms allow a wider reach, and also offer a certain amount of monetary gain. She says her experience with the 100 Indian Tinder Tales project was a testament to that. “There is no big plan: no coffee table book or shows in a gallery. There’s no money for that. Sure, initially, I didn’t earn a penny for 100 Tinder Tales either. But once the series went viral, and foreign press started noticing, I started receiving commissioned work,” she says.

You can submit your stories to bodyofstories17@gmail.com

#BodyOfStories Udita, from #Jharkhand, now studying in the US and working in #Mali, sent this story. "When I was a little girl, I once saw a beautiful woman on TV and commented to my mother ,who sat next to me , " Ma, look at her, she is so beautiful." My mom looked at the woman on the screen and said -" Yes, she is beautiful.  What about her do you find beautiful though?" "Her skin is so fair" - I replied. Ma thought for a moment and replied -" Let me tell you a secret for a true test of beauty. If you ever find someone beautiful, try imagining them with a different skin color. If they are fair, imagine if they had dark skin and if they are dark, imagine if they had fair skin. If you still find them beautiful, then they are truly beautiful. Beauty is not only in one's skin color. " I don't know why, but that conversation has stuck with me all my life. Years later, when I first went to #Africa I saw astounding beauty in all its forms. In the way people had grace and strength in their bodies, in the way they moved, in their smiles, in their dance, in their walk. I did not have to do the colour test my mom taught me. More than that, for the first time, I found beauty in myself and in how people saw me. I had never considered myself beautiful. People always told me I had too dark a skin, too big a butt, too loud a laugh. But in Africa, oh, my skin was never too dark, my butt never too big and laugh never too loud. Africa was kind and generous and accepting of all of me and more. I wish #India were as kind and generous to Africans too ." ------- ‘Body of stories’ is a crowdsourced art project to explore and celebrate the many, varied ways of experiencing the human body. To maintain confidentiality and for my sanity, I am only accepting stories on bodyofstories17@gmail.com. Please do not message me on FB or Instagram. #racism #illustration #art #stories #bodypositivity #indian #artist #stories

A post shared by Indu Harikumar (@induviduality) on