Artist Indu Harikumar Warns Women of Online Abuse
In this age, internet is a prospering place to form connections with strangers and keep in touch with friends. It is also used as a platform to spread opinions and to follow current events.
However, such easy access to communication can be harmful. For example, digitally, women are subjected to being trolled for their politics or opinions; many complain of receiving threats of rapes and sexual assault. In 2017, Amnesty International polled 4,000 women from eight countries found that 76% of women who were abused on social media restricted their use. 32% said they had stopped expressing opinions on some issues. Due to an increasing access to the internet, more women faced online abuse for sharing their opinions on social media platforms and participating in public life.
Indu Harikumar, an indian artist, creates art through the experience of others. Spreading stories of the abuse faced by other women, she hopes to help her audience realize that they are not alone.
Photo of Indu Harikumar: Chaitali Mitra
In the start of Indu Harikumar’s art journey, she volunteered with Mumbai Mobile Creches, where she picked bottle caps and seedpods to create art and toys with children. She then went on writing and illustrating seven children's books, while teaching children through art. Harikumar’s work was exhibited numerous times, such as in Bratislava in 2012, the Biennial of Illustrations, and the Kochi -Muziris Biennale and Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany in July 2018.
Indu Harikumar started the crowdsourced art project #HowWeDate in association with Tinder. It was exhibited at Kunsthalle Bremen, a museum in Germany.
2015, Indu was invited by Vi Knallgrau GmbH for an artist residency in Vienna where she dabbled with digital art and created a digital graphic narrative about her grandfather's educational experience as a low caste. It was the first time Harikumar used Tinder, which eventually led to her project #100IndianTinderTales that turned into a major crowdsourced illustration endeavor.
Harikumar struggled with similar things other women dealt with, such as body image and relational abuse. Both of these situations prompted her to create artwork that are tied to true stories of strangers' experiences. Indu Harikumar never would have guessed that asking for other people’s thoughts on dating apps would cause her Facebook messages to be flooded with personal stories. What started small eventually became a community of women, who related to each other through personal experience.
However, it was not an absolutely positive experience.
“...it was also very emotionally taxing; it was like playing shrink to random strangers, to give my time away and engage with other people's problems.”- Harikumar
Mumbai-based Indu Harikumar's online art project #100IndianTinderTales crowd-sourced experiences of Indians on the dating app Tinder and turned them into illustrations.
Despite that, Harikumar found herself connecting with women she never knew, bringing her comfort as well as courage. From #100IndianTinderTales (that got press, internet and radio coverage all over the world, including the BBC), Harikumar created her current project LoveSexandTech among other crowdsourced projects, all dealing with personal stories.
In the past, Indu Harikumar had, like other women, been in an abusive relationship with a man. Initially everything seemed great, until months later Harikumar started having arguments with her partner, mainly regarding her posts on social media.
"Even when he was not present, I was thinking for him - before putting a post, I was trying to anticipate how he would react? Soon, I was putting the same restrictions on my life offline too. I was walking on eggshells."
After facing the abuse of her ex-boyfriend and other internet abuses, Harikumar decided to create an internet crowdsourced series, LoveSexandTech, supported by Take Back the Tech, with a grant of $2,500 from the Association for Progressive Communications' (APC), a global campaign to make digital space safer for women.
Asking women to share their stories, Harikumar clarified:
"this could be anything from the threat to make a chat you shared with them public or with friends, threatening to leak your nude photos or leaking them, causing you emotional, physical or sexual harm for talking to someone online or posting something that they don't approve of, or adding spyware to your devices".
Within days, women responded with their stories of having faced gaslighting, control, slut-shaming, emotional violence, and manipulation. Reading their stories, Harikumar acknowledges the parallels of them: in the attempt to make their relationships work, women allowed themselves to be restricted and molded into someone their partner wanted.
"The worst thing is if you don't stand up to your abuser, then more than feeling hatred for them, you feel anger towards yourself. You blame yourself for not standing up for yourself."
Through LoveSexandTech, Harikumar describes that she is trying to document stories of women acknowledging the abuse, standing up to their abusers, and taking back control of technology to reclaim the virtual space that is rightfully theirs. Understanding that people don’t often talk about the abuse they are going through and can feel alone in their circumstances, Harikumar tries her best to provide consolation for women and urge women to get out of/deal with their toxic environments.
Reading the stories sent to her, Harikumar remarks:
"When I read their stories I feel I can connect with them on some level — I have felt something similar at some point of time. This was meant to be a platform of solidarity and I feel we have achieved that.