The friendly Devi in the polka-dot blouse is a symptom of a larger malaise
A typical verse in the Devi Stuti (credited to Rishi Markandeya) goes –
या देवी सर्वभूतेषु बुद्धि-रूपेण संस्थिता।
नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमो नमः॥
“That devi who exists in all beings in the form of intelligence, I bow to her”.
Similar verses extol her for existing in all beings in the form of क्षुधा (hunger), शक्ति (power), तृष्णा (desire) and so on.
I was reminded of this verse when a colleague posted a pic from his bank’s wall in our team WhatsApp group –
We call her the ‘girl in the polka dot shirt’. She crops up here, there and everywhere. We’ve noticed her in diabetes ads…
..social media posts by software giants…
.. in a women returnship program graphic
..and other creative campaigns galore!
Her photos are among the top search results on shutterstock.com when you search for ‘Indian girl’ or ‘Indian woman’
…and therein lies the reason for her popularity.
Despite the huge upswing in digital campaigns in India, most creative managers still rely on western stock image portals such as Shutterstock or Adobe Stock for creatives. Imagery of non-white/non-Caucasian shoots is quite limited. So limited in fact that this friendly girl in the polka-dotted blouse is seen in literally hundreds of campaigns across our digital and even non-digital landscape.
So is this guy with the salt-and-pepper beard:
I’ve seen him on the sides of buses, the clingfilm of hospital facades and innumerable ad creatives.
Purely from a personal perspective, I feel that it’s a crying shame that despite being 1.4 billion strong, we still rely on Western portals for our imagery. Portals such as Images Bazaar are starting to make inroads to combat this hegemony. Still, the larger question is about the content online: much of the written, image or video content on the internet today has originated and is still originating from the west – we’re flooded with Caucasian images, Western points of view, and European or American takes on global events.
This is the cultural soft power of these countries that we must take on as content creators and creative storytellers. The ramifications of such power can be felt in diverse ways: from generative AI that is trained wholly or mostly on Western images, leading it to generate inaccurate/stereotypical images for Indians, to auto-correct tools that result in this:
We must strive to generate more content, of better quality, originating from our lands, that speak our languages, and contain imagery of our people. Content rebalancing must be part of the decolonization effort we’ve started as a country.
Otherwise, let’s continue to glory in watching the polka-dotted Devi in all her avatars, and worse!