Kirthi Jayakumar has voiced her thoughts on feminism on various platforms across the world. But now she’s discovered another interesting medium to spread the message about equality for women and empowerment — through doodles on Instagram.
Called Femcyclopaedia, the page is a curation of portraits of women that offer rarely mentioned herstories (history written from a feminist perspective, emphasising the role of women) from across the world. It all goes back to when she was in Class 9. “We had to submit a project worth 20 marks in history class.
Each of us had to do a report on one world leader. Rani Lakshmi Bai and Indira Gandhi were the only two women leaders that were allotted,” says Kirthi, who runs the Red Elephant Foundation. This didn’t seem right so she asked if she could choose another woman leader, she was sure there were more examples then just two.
“I eventually wrote about Margaret Thatcher and presented the project,” she recalls.
While this is what lay in the path for her to start reading about more such women, she discovered she enjoyed doodling only recently.
“Whenever I spaced out in law school, I would end up scribbling on paper. We’ve all done this at some point in our lives. I never thought it was an art form,” says Kirthi.
“In 2012, when I got a formative understanding that zen doodling can be something more. During the Nirbhaya case, which was transformative for me, doodling felt cathartic. I came to know it helps me take on structures of patriarchy or violence in a peaceful manner.”
So she brought both the ideas together and thus was born Femcyclopaedia.
“What drives me are two things: I would like to shed light through intersectionality on the fact that women of the upper and lower class don’t face the same kind of oppression. Secondly, in India, women are either treated as goddesses or trash but I don’t believe in basification. Women who are placed on a pedestal are not the only ones we need to look up to, so I draw everyday examples around us as well,” she says.
Ladies from marginalised communities have come across her works, and have been positively benefited by them — “A woman attended a talk I was giving on Femcyclopaedia. She was from a family that discouraged education. But after she saw a post on an empowered woman from her community during the talk, she told her father about it. It opened up a conversation between the two about her right to education and now she’s completed engineering midway!” smiles Kirthi. She narrates the story of another woman who underwent something similar.
“This girl was going through depression because of a history of sexual violence. This usually happens in a war or conflict setting. I didn’t know she had access to Instagram but she saw my page and it turned her life around. She realised there was hope and life was not over for her. Today, she negotiates for the rights of women in conflict,” she remarks.