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Two artists Indu Harikumar and Tarini Sethi provide their take on fellow countrymen on social media platforms like Tinder and Instagram.

Illustrations: Courtesy of the artists

Last Valentine’s Day, Tinder released a survey of 15,000 Indian users that showed that while a majority of women look for a sense of humour in an online match, men put appearance above everything else. Delhibased artist Tarini Sethi returns the gaze, with her collection “Tinder Gods of India”, a series of sketches that parody the profile images of male users. “The reason I called the collection “Tinder Gods of India” was mostly because I wanted to blatantly state the obvious,” she says. “Men in India are, in a sense, seen as these all powerful creatures that require constant respect and admiration. I think the men, much like anyone else on a dating/hook-up app, try to portray themselves as their best selves, taking selfies from their best sides, talking about their most interesting interests, and the most intellectual books, but at the same time maintaining their icy cool factor. Basically, they’re trying to reach that stage of ‘social perfectionism’”.

It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by Indu Harikumar (@induviduality) who took to Instagram last year to represent real tinder experiences in her #100IndianTinderTales collection. When she set out to curate crowdsourced stories of Indians (and people who had matched with Indians) on Tinder, she learned that first and foremost, it was the scarcity of matches that drove male users’ creativity. Her post “How to sell yourself like a tampon” tells the story of a naive Tinder user being schooled in the art of profile engineering by a ‘self-proclaimed Tinder guru’ (the secret is a tight bio, and throwing in the golden words ‘Investment Banker’ and ‘MBA’ if you’re desperate). The established illustrator supplemented each story with her own sketches, including a recreation of Gustav Klimt’s iconic Kiss, to tell her own story of a museum-hopping date while on an art residency in Vienna.

Incidentally, Sethi’s first solo show ‘Of Flesh and Fog’ was also based on crowd-sourced images, a process that has given both women a unique insight into the way young India perceives its own sexuality and sexual experiences. When Sethi put out a request for friends and strangers alike to send in nude or semi-nude photos for her to base her works on, she was surprised at the demographic representation she saw. “90 per cent of the responses to this project were women – every third email in my inbox was a nude image of a woman, proud and confident. All of them were aware that they would be drawn and changed around by me, and willing to give themselves a chance, empowering themselves by letting go.”

A date in Andheri (E) by Indu Harikumar

In Harikumar’s experience, respondents seemed to simply be looking for an outlet, and perhaps some validation as well. “I really didn’t expect the #100IndianTinderTales to take off, people to contribute, to get the press I got and most importantly I didn’t expect strangers to be vulnerable, to share their deepest secrets. But when they came, they did by the hordes and I was unprepared. As people opened [up], shed their inhibitions and shared, it became a platform for more and more people to say “Me too,” to connect and feel less isolated. I learned in the eight months of listening to other people’s stories that we all want to be heard and accepted, and look for love in all sorts of places — online, offline, fumbling, falling just to be accepted, for even a small bit of time.”

How to sell yourself like a tampon by Tarini Sethi

Although both artists turned to Tinder to fuel their creations, their work has received a wide range of unpredictable reactions. Harikumar still has strangers walking up to her and launching into their stories; two people who met in the comments section under a post even went on to get married, and named her the guest of honour at their wedding. Sethi’s critics question her tendency to focus on anthropomorphic or gender-bending nudes, yet she feels that those who do understand her work see it for the freedom and humour it embodies. “They want to be drawn by me because they think they will be portrayed as someone independent from the burdens of life, someone living not on earth but somewhere where things are more chill and accepted.”

Featured image: Stealing kisses in Mumbai and Right swiping ‘the kiss’ by Indu Harikumar

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