Break of day: The Good Morning message finds new life as a protest site
A photobook brings together subversive posts drawn from an Instagram project that turned the tiny, insistent templates into sites of protest.
Images of babies nestled in purple roses, folded hands against saffron skies, CGI diyas on a CGI lake… the templated Good Morning message can be the bane of the WhatsApp group.
Sometimes, the low-resolution imagery and watermarked kitsch can also take a sinister turn, becoming a medium for unsolicited advice and cautionary notes. Mumbai-based visual artist and photographer Kaamna Patel says she first noticed this in late 2019, amid the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, in a year also marked by communal violence, casteist attacks and crackdowns on protestors.
The instantly recognisable templates featuring birds, flowers, babies and messages — easy to access (many are available for free download), with their apolitical, chirpy appeal — began to be used to circulate propaganda, Patel says. There were comments on respecting authority, narrow definitions of patriotism, loyalty and culture.
Then, she came upon an Instagram account that was hitting back. The account (@SoDoneChilling, administered anonymously and since deleted) posted subversive Good Morning messages that juxtaposed things like a vivid rainbow and bird in flight with the words: “Too many cops, too little justice”. The page invited others to play with the templates and share their takes on the platform too.
“The images stayed with me,” Patel says. “Last year, I approached the account’s administrators with the idea for a book.”
“So many of these images are pixelated or have so much going on visually, with a complete mishmash of aesthetics. But they were meant to infiltrate the same WhatsApp family groups and present a different argument in a language the recipients were familiar with,” Patel says. “They became a site of protest, and a way to extend conversation with people outside of one’s echo chamber.”
Good Morning mimics a flipbook or digital album, with one image on each page. Familiar backdrops of red roses alongside cups of tea, of fields of tulips, and of hilly sunrises are emblazoned with the familiar all-caps greetings and, in lighter fonts, messages in English and Hindi. These urge the recipient to “Verify every piece of information you receive”, “Light your Islamophobia and casteism on fire”, “Fight fascism, fake news and hate”.
Some remind the viewer that if they were living in Kashmir, they likely wouldn’t receive these missives amid the internet shutdowns. Other posts quote Martin Luther King Jr, BR Ambedkar and Theodore Roosevelt on the dangers of good men doing nothing.
The design of the book contains Easter eggs. A folded-hands emoji on the cover is the exact shade of the WhatsApp blue tick; the kappa paper board cover mimics its chat backdrop; and the recycled-plastic spirals are in the app’s base green colour.
The photobook is a rare instance of a digital archive finding new life in print. “In that sense, I am trying to also question what happens to images on the internet. What kind of life do they have? What happens when you try to revive them in print?” Patel says.
Good Morning concludes with an essay by artist Anisha Baid titled Everything is not Okay. “As signs of protest, these images are cheeky and effective. They brought to mind the German filmmaker Hito Steyerl’s idea of the ‘poor image’. The project is a reminder of the power of a badly designed, low-quality image that circulates well and quickly moves into various social spaces,” Baid says.
The photobook is one of those things that can lie around, bring a smile or chuckle to one’s face, and then make one think, adds Patel. “Perhaps, it can create space for people with opposing views to have a discussion.”