Hanifa Abdul Hameed is an Indian-American illustrator whose work is inspired by the rich textiles, architecture, historical paintings, people and food of India. Her background in fashion design is woven through many of her pieces with an acute attention to detail and beautifully intricate patterns.
Here, we dig into the story of one of her pieces that you may have seen come across your feeds this past year. Her work titled “Vote for Aunty” was part of a larger fundraising campaign organized with actors Nik Dodani and Vineet Chhibber to help energize and mobilize the South Asian community for Kamala Harris. And as this article’s title may suggest… it went viral.
Take us back to the “viral moment.” How did your piece first catch fire on social media?
Once we put the piece out there [on the day of the Vice Presidential debate], I started getting a lot more followers all of a sudden, and then I put out the work [on my own feed] and it completely spiked… it was a really happy moment!
And once you realized that celebrities were posting and people were paying attention, what was next?
Initially they were only selling sweatshirts as part of the campaign, so I definitely saw an opportunity there to sell other things. Random people wanted to see it on shirts and on posters, so I started linking to my Society6 shop on Instagram.
And with all the attention on social media, there can sadly be a lot of negativity that creeps into it all. How did you handle that side of your success?
There were two types of hate [I came across], there’s one that’s just nasty and out to get you and mean. And then there’s people who do have some logic behind it where you can see some sort of point. The ones that were just straight up hate, I ignored them. And the ones who had some logic, I would engage in a conversation. A lot of people would repost my work but with a message against the art. So I could see that they’d repost my art and I would go and talk to them. A lot of people said we shouldn’t just focus on her [Kamala’s] identity, and it should be more about the kind of work that she’s doing. Which I completely understood and so I talked to them about that.
Now, you mentioned that people were often reposting your work, and I know a common problem among all artists is the idea of copyright infringement and others stealing their work for their own purposes. Did you run into similar issues, and how did you handle that?
That was a huge problem! As far as attribution goes, if I saw or if one of my friends saw someone post the piece, we’d write in the comments “Please tag me” or I’d message them directly. People would be respectful of that. And in terms of copying my art, there were SO many people copying the art. At first it was available only on sweatshirts and people wanted it on other things. The first version was Kamala in a suit and I was not allowed to sell that version myself because of my agreement with [the fundraising campaign]—I was only allowed to sell the sari version. But people wanted the suit version because Mindy Kaling was wearing it and all these celebrities—so I saw it everywhere. On Amazon, Etsy, Redbubble, so many places. I would get so angry, and I’d go through and report them and file a copyright infringement form. I’d have to do it individually. It was really frustrating because these other people were making money off of something that I worked really hard on.
Is there any advice you give to other artists who may encounter a similar “viral moment”?
Any piece that goes viral, people are going to have two different opinions. And one is definitely going to be negative. So it’s just best to tune them out. No matter how much you think into something, people will find a way to critique it. And that’s ok. You can only control how you feel. Don’t take that critique personally.
A great sentiment to leave you all with! Huge thanks to Hanifa for sharing her story with us, and if you’d like to check out more of her work…