This Super Viral Photo Of A Muslim Woman Ended Up In A Book About Banned Nipples On Instagram
"I'm just somebody who kind of challenges people to look at me."
When Fatuma agreed to be photographed for a feminist publication founded by Muslim women as part of its "Weaponise the Internet" cover story, the young creative had no idea she would end up in a book alongside banned and censored images.
Showing her dressed in a khaki jacket and sandstorm sunglasses, with a mobile phone wedged between her ear and her hijab, the image was supposed to be a playful take on the way some Muslim women use their headscarves as hands-free kits.
The article explored how people of colour are using the internet to champion causes they're passionate about. But when photographer Isaac Kariuki shared the image on his Instagram, it provoked such a negative reaction he felt he had no choice but to remove it. (The image was not taken down by Instagram.)
As a result, it now appears in Pics or It Didn't Happen, a collection of photos of women's bodies that have been removed from Instagram, alongside images of pubic hair, period-stained bedsheets, and nipples.
Fatuma, who did not wish to give her surname, says she found the attention the photo had attracted "funny".
She attended a book signing at London's V&A Museum two weeks ago at a Friday Late event exhibiting some of the photos from the book. Fatuma tells BuzzFeed News: "For me, I know art has a life of its own and once it's made, it kind of exists in the world.
"It was just really funny going to the event at the V&A and seeing how internet culture – a face of resistance – then gets appropriated by these major institutions … There are people who are able to get acceptance from institutions because they're able to capitalise on the content created by people on the margins, because for me that's what always happens. But it's just funny to see when it's your image."
The book was compiled by artists Molly Soda and Arvida Byström, who had tweeted about commemorating the banned Instagram posts.
Instagram doesn't allow nudity on its platform. In its community guidelines, it says: “We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram."
As a result, social media campaigns like #freethenipple have sprung up.
Pics or It Didn't Happen has gained a lot of media attention and has been reviewed both in the mainstream press and in art publications. Most articles feature a selection of banned images, even including NSFW in the title, yet the image of Fatuma – sometimes tacked on at the end – is striking in its difference.
"It stands out from everything else being produced," Fatuma says. "It's very different. It becomes 'Oh wait, are you trying to make a political statement?' because I'm wearing all khaki colours … wearing Oakley sunglasses has these militaristic overtones to it, and I've got a phone in my hijab – which is something that people do.
"They walk around with their phones in their headscarves like a hands-free."
"The [comments] started off very ominous. A lot of ‘WTF??’ and ‘lol what is this’ and gradually the Islamophobic comments started to pile up," Kariuki says.
"A lot of people took offence to the title ‘Weaponise the Internet’ and its association with a black [woman] with a phone tucked inside her hijab. Some people thought I was trying to instigate or glamorise something they saw as threatening."
The concept was to imagine what a "hijabi hacker collective would look like in the environment we’re in (mass surveillance, personal safety breaches, etc.) We used motifs from '90s hacker aesthetics, from Matrix green to Darude 'Sandstorm' sunglasses."
"We were clearly just having a lot of fun," Kariuki adds.
The photographer says he was alarmed by the backlash as he had never received such negative comments before. "No not a single one," he says.
"I think because it was one of the few times I ever used hashtags and it was for a magazine with a large online following, it just found its way into people’s 'Explore' page who don’t go out looking for this stuff. These 'people' being closed-minded bigots, I mean."
When asked why he took the photo down, Kariuki said: "It was a knee-jerk response.
"I didn’t want the attention reaching Fatuma either. I rarely use Instagram and I just thought, Well, this inconsequential app is ruining my day, so let me just delete the photo.
"I deleted the app soon after as well. I mostly use Tumblr to share my work and when I get anonymous messages sending negative comments, I just go about my day – but for some reason, the platform which is all image-driven had me shook because I’m a visual artist and I rely on images to communicate something."
For Fatuma, the image was meant to be provocative. "I think it's controversial," she says. "When you see a woman in a headscarf often it's in the context of news articles, or Instagram hijabis on the modest fashion [scene] … but this is stylised studio photography, very editorial … It's basically very, very artistic and that's the purpose."
She's thoughtful about the way the photo has taken on a life on its own and says although it was shot two years ago, it has developed a different meaning having resurfaced and featured in a book.
"It's interesting that now it's for a wider group of people and those groups of people are often those who like to consume images of people like me, like I'm some kind of National Geographic bit of ethnographic photography."
Asked how she feels about appearing in the book of censored images, Fatuma says: "It's really surreal. I am surrounded by all these white girls' bodies and it seems... I just thought, if you're somebody who has had their photo taken, you don't have much control where it goes, or where it appears or what context it appears in."
On Tumblr, however, Fatuma has become something of an inspiration. She says a number of young Muslim women have reached out to her and "felt in some ways validated by that image because it was me, not being a pretty, modest fashion person, and that's one of the common images out there. I'm just somebody who kind of challenges people to look at me."