How These Women Instagram Artists Are ‘Reclaiming’ Sexist Words
These women Instagram artists combine art and words to challenge sexism and voice dissent.
These women Instagram artists combine art and words to challenge sexism and voice dissent.(Photo Courtesy: Pranjali Dubey/@kalmuhi_ (L); Priyanka Paul/@artwhoring (R))

How These Women Instagram Artists Are ‘Reclaiming’ Sexist Words

The use of social media as a space for voicing dissent is a familiar phenomenon of our age. However, the ways in which people choose to do so, across social platforms, continue to surprise and delight us.

In recent years, Instagram has become a lively hub of freelance artists and graphic designers. Some of them, like the Pakistani-Canadian Maria Qamar of @hatecopy, have become quite a rage.

Now, small artists from India, like @artwhoring (Priyanka Paul, Mumbai) and @kalmuhi_ (Pranjali Dubey, Ahmedabad), are using both illustrations and words to question patriarchal mindsets.

‘Kalmuhi’, ‘Whore’, ‘Feminazi’. Call us what you will.

As is apparent from their Instagram handles and frequently used hashtags, these women are not afraid of using these words. Far from accepting their sexist denotations, they are ‘reclaiming’ and redefining these tags.

Not Afraid to Break the Mould

The Quint asked Pranjali Dubey what ‘Kalmuhi’ (literally, one who has blackened one’s face in public) means to her and what she wishes to achieve through her art.

Kalmuhi is a term that stands for any woman who breaks the rules and goes against the norms, who doesn’t fit into the socially assigned mould. Kalmuhi is a space that I have created for us, the norm-breaking women, to discuss ‘tabooed’ topics, including periods, sex, and mental disorders.
Pranjali Dubey, @kalmuhi_

Recounting a recent incident, Pranjali remarked,

Two days ago, a young girl texted me saying that she went to the temple on her period after seeing my doodle and the sky did not fall. It made me so happy. This is what I want to achieve through my art. I want young people to ask questions and help mend society at the places where it’s broken.
Pranjali Dubey, @kalmuhi_

Dignity of Labour

Priyanka Paul too defended her Instagram handle, ‘Artwhoring’, in a conversation with The Quint.

Prostitution was once practiced in India without the unnecessary stigma. It is now looked down upon and sex workers aren’t given the required government attention. Art as a career choice is also often looked down upon. ‘Artwhoring’ brings the two together and, to me, it signifies dignity of labour.
Priyanka Paul, @artwhoring

Discussing her artistic hopes and aims, she said,

With my art, I hope to convey the need to analyse the accepted social systems and to re-evaluate all that is wrong in the society. I hope my art questions the status quo and provides a voice to the unheard. The strongest hope that I have for my art is that it informs, educates, and (if possible) empowers.
Priyanka Paul, @artwhoring

‘Reclaiming’: To Do or Not to Do

The process of ‘reclaiming’ words is not a simple one; it comes with its share of contradictions. Here I am thinking of the racist ‘N’ word and the infamous ‘slut’ of Slut Walks.

In an article titled “Can We Ever Really Reclaim the “N” Word?”, The Black Institute acknowledges that Hip-hop culture has been significant in normalising and ‘reclaiming’ the ‘N’ word. However, the article also asks if we can use this “formerly hateful” word, with a complex history, in such a commonplace manner.

A similar debate exists around the word ‘slut’, especially in relation to the Slut Walk movement that originated in Toronto, Canada in 2011. It has been argued that black women have historically been understood as hypersexed, as always ready and willing (as quoted in a Huffington Post article). This complicates the ‘reclaiming’ of the word ‘slut’ for coloured women.

Fear of the Name

What we can take away from the attempts of these artists and the debates surrounding ‘reclaiming’ is that words are not innocent. They come with the burden of historical and social contexts and must be handled with care and awareness. However, we must not let the fear of the name increase the fear of the thing itself.

(With inputs from The Black Institute and Huffington Post.)

(We all love to express ourselves, but how often do we do it in our mother tongue? Here's your chance! This Independence Day, khul ke bol with BOL – Love your Bhasha. Sing, write, perform, spew poetry – whatever you like – in your mother tongue. Send us your BOL at bol@thequint.com or WhatsApp it to 9910181818.)