From a woman who felt conscious about her large breasts to a man who professed guilt for calling his ex-girlfriend 'flat-chested', Indu's Instagram is full of stories and confessions.

Identitty Meet the Insta artist whos drawing womens breasts telling their tales
news Art Saturday, March 02, 2019 - 18:58

There was a conversation, as conversations often are at the background of an idea. Someone was telling Indu Harikumar how big-busted that person had always been, and till the age of 26, thought that that’s all men looked at when she entered a room. Indu was on the other side of the spectrum, she had been much too skinny in her 20s and had often felt like an ‘incomplete’ person. Indu, known for doing art projects on areas that make her curious, then thought of a new one that she would later call Identitty. On her Instagram – where she runs her crowd-sourced art projects – Indu invited women to send stories around their breasts, with a photo of the bust – naked or dressed.

“You can’t anticipate how the reactions would be but from my understanding of having done other projects, as one person shares, it somehow becomes all right for another person to share,” Indu tells TNM. She is based in Mumbai, and has been doing art projects on Instagram for a few years now. After being an illustrator for children’s books and working with children for a while, she wanted to do something more, she knew that her work so far had been “safe”.

“In 2016, I went to do an art residency in Vienna for three months. That’s also when I used Tinder – the dating app – for the first time,” Indu says. That same year, she began the first of her crowd-sourced art projects on Instagram – 100 Indian Tinder Tales. In 2017, she worked on another series – Body of Stories.

“The Tinder Tales, I did, mostly because I was curious about other people’s experiences on the dating app. I also thought it would make interesting drawing material. I didn’t expect anyone to come and tell their stories because why should they.  But I heard from a lot of people – absolute strangers sharing their personal stories with me. I had no idea it would become so popular,” Indu says.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

#tinderconfessions There’s a beautiful boy I matched with. His bio said he played the violin, was a Karate black belt, and a meditation junkie. I laughed. When we got talking, he suggested we go to the best biryani place in town. It was a Military Hotel Mess. We then decided to go to an art gallery and look at Raja Ravi Verma paintings. We spent hours in the gallery in silence. We went to the park nearby and talked and talked until one of us suggested we eat, and we went to a shady erstwhile dance bar. Drunk on Old Monk and Coke, we walked back to his place. He led me to the terrace and excused himself. I looked around. There were paintings on the terrace. Who leaves paintings on the terrace? Some of them had turned black around the edges, and yet there was nothing off about them. In fact they looked like they belonged there. ‘You have naked woman on your terrace,’ I remember telling him, looking at the gorgeous futuristic paintings. ‘I like naked women on my terrace,’ he said, and kissed me. I lost my virginity to that man. On that terrace. ••• These stories are part of an online crowdsourced project titled #100IndianTinderTales, in which Indians share their experiences of finding love and intimacy on the dating app.

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Over the next few years, she has done other projects in the areas of sexuality, relationships and sex. “If there is a common thread in all of the projects that I do, it is vulnerability and shame,” Indu says. People – especially older ones – were ashamed they were even on the Tinder app. When they saw the stories of other people going through similar experiences, they knew they were not alone. And Indu always had more questions to ask on her Instagram.

“Initially, the questions were on what I was thinking about and reading about, and wanted to know what others thought of it.  Over time, people started sending me questions saying ‘I’ve been worrying about this and I want to know what others think about it'. So I put out these questions and I also put out the answers from other people. It is now a little community that has formed in the last one and a half years.”

It is from this community that Identitty too began, her first fully digital project. At the time of Tinder Tales, Indu didn’t anticipate anything, people may or may not send their stories. But people did – women did. The first story was of the woman who had spoken to Indu about her big bust. Indu painted her among a lawn and orange flowers, wearing a blue shirt, unbuttoned and loosely covering parts of her body. The woman writes: “My breasts have been the source of most sexual compliments I get, but they have also been frustratingly large and the source of shame, embarrassment, and feeling ugly. I used to think VERY often about getting breast reduction surgery. I grew up in south east Asia and I was always bigger than girls around me.” Writing how she had always felt like a giant, the woman writes, “The idea that larger breasts are attractive seems to me to be a cruel lie.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Announcing the next crowdsourced art project #Identitty. This project will share women's stories around their breasts. To know how to participate, please swipe and read the instructions. Don't forget to show the boobies some love by pressing heart and sharing. ❤️ Story 1, shared by S. "My breasts have been the source of most sexual compliments I get, but they have also been frustratingly large and the source of shame, embarrassment, and feeling ugly. I used to think VERY often about getting breast reduction surgery. I grew up in south east Asia and I was always bigger than girls around me. Clothes didn’t fit me the same way. Even shoes didn’t honestly. It was an overall sense of being giant and un-feminine compared to the lovely slender girls around me. Even now clothes don’t fit like they would on smaller breasted women. The idea that larger breasts are attractive seems to me to be a cruel lie. The pain when I’ve tried running. The embarrassment of going to the gym. Breasts getting in the way of various yoga poses. And now that I’m breastfeeding, they’re EVEN bigger. I’m only grateful that the increase in size was not cruelly large. But what happens when I’m done? The sag will be another challenging body image saga :( But I love how I look in my nudes. I feel empowered at the way some men have reacted to them. I feel ashamed too that I have needed that to feel good about myself sometimes. I don’t know what the source of this is but I have a desire to be an exhibitionist, have random people see them. Have wanted this since i was a child. I’d imagine myself draped in gauzy fabrics in some sort of harem. I suppose if you use this picture, people will see them in a way. Thank you for that! And for being the receiver of our deep, dark, small/big thoughts." #breasts #art #realwomen #artist #womenwhodraw #feminist #stories

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But she has somehow always had a desire to be an exhibitionist for random people, she says, and she is happy that through Indu’s project that dream could at least partially come true.

Indu also asked women to send colour photos so she could get the skin tone right. Among the questions she puts on her Instagram, was one where she's asked, ‘How do you feel getting undressed for the first time in front of a lover’. Someone commented that they are very conscious about their private part because it is very dark. Indu reckons it could come from watching white porn. “Their bodies are different from the bodies of people they watch (on porn). It makes them conscious. Which is why I decided to do this whole project in colour. The colour of your skin is different in different parts too. There is so much gradation in your skin.”

Another woman writes to her of being a conscious young woman who had been taught to never draw attention to her breasts, to wear loose and unshapely clothes and cover her blooming chests with large dupattas. But life changed for her when she met Odissi dancers, in love with their breasts ‘swaying their chests with abandon, keeping slightly cupped palms under their breasts gracefully, draping their pallus across torsos without trying to hide anything.’ Her, Indu drew wearing a pink sari, a slightly melancholic face, and standing in a dance pose.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

#identitty "S, are your breasts in front of your waist?" "No." "Then keep your hand under where your breasts are, not in front of your waist." That was my Odissi teacher to me, while I danced in our class. Me, suitably in culture shock. I was just 18. Today I see the popularity of boudoir photography and hear Bollywood actresses using phrases like 'body-shaming' and taking up Twitter wars against newspapers that publish headlines about their cleavages. But back then as a young woman, I knew that all my conscious life, I had been taught - through a strange kind of social osmosis - that a woman shouldn't draw attention to her breasts. Like, never ever. Peeping bra straps must be hidden away quickly. Dupattas must cover blooming chests entirely. The more loose and unshapely the outlines of your clothes, the better. There was definitely no template for woman-who-shows-her-breast. So imagine my shock, when the women in Odissi, based on the beautiful damsels of temple sculpture, were totally okay with their breasts. Hell, they were in love with them. They had no qualms about drawing attention to them - by swaying their chests with abandon, keeping slightly cupped palms under their breasts gracefully, draping their pallus across torsos without trying to hide anything. So much for typical 'Indian cultural heritage' ideas that I had started out with, and ended up shattering, fortunately. While emulating the body language of these women over the years, I learnt something very quietly, instinctively, experientially as a woman: that strange pleasure of self-love. This was something no one ever taught me - not sex education, not my liberal parents, not even my lovers - that the body is a beautiful thing. It is more than just what is viewed from outside, glimpsed in a mirror, or gazed at by a man. It doesn't owe belonging to any culture - Indian, western or martian. Like a beautiful home we inhabit, every part of it, is functional and aesthetic all at once. Its lines and curves and contours are to be admired, enjoyed, lived in, and taken care of, not to be judged. Nothing 'haww ji' about any of it. (1/2) #art #artist #artistsoninstagram #breasts #brownbodies

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“When a particular story is out, some women say that they could connect to it. Sharing of such personal information makes you feel that you are not alone. I primarily hear from women, but these days I hear from men too. Men say no one talks to them about these things. Women too don’t know what men are thinking about. Since you don’t talk about these things, you are not even sure if you are allowed to think in a certain way,” Indu says.

Hearing from young men in their 20s – confused and not knowing where to look to for information – really changed Indu as a person, she says. “I now feel less anger towards men.”

After seeing one of the stories Indu shared and sketched, of a woman who was flat-chested as a teenager and had to face a lot of insensitive comments for it, one man told Indu he felt guilty reading it. He had, in a fit of anger, once called his ex-girlfriend flat-chested and that had hurt her so much.

Among her many sketches are also Indu’s own pictures, inspiring stories of how she got through what she did. And that had not been easy, putting herself out there. “I am not someone who likes to get out of my comfort zone at all. I am pushed into these places where I can’t even leave anymore. Each of these projects - I don’t think about where it’s taking me. Once you do it for some time, you feel a certain amount of comfort . There are times when I feel paranoid, there are times when I feel safe. I don’t want to save the world or anything. What these projects do for me is they make me feel less alone. I have my own demons. When I started hearing people’s stories I knew I was not alone.”

Indu Harikumar; Photo Courtesy: Chaitali Mitra

It had also been emotionally draining for her, listening to so many stories and not all of them are happy stories. It affects her, too. Over time, she has learnt to disengage and realise that all people sometimes need is a release. “Telling me such personal details of their life, that is the trust of an absolute stranger in me. I don’t think there’s any better validation than that.”

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