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Meet the gorilla girl

By Sweta Akundi

Did you hear about that gorilla who pops up at strange places in the city — sneaking inside a garage in Adyar, plopping down on the terrace of a building in Saidapet, chomping on raw mango in Besant Nagar? If you haven’t yet, scroll down Jemma Jose’ Instagram page.
For Instagram’s 100 Day Project (a movement that calls for sticking to a creative process for 100 days), the 30-year-old illustrator has created a strange series; she introduces a gorilla into various pictures that she has clicked in and around the city. “These are not great pictures by themselves. Just sights I pass by everyday that somehow caught my fancy. And then I add my gorilla to them. The more out of context, the better,” she laughs.
So far, she has had her gorilla lazily poke its fingers through a building full of screaming people (imagine a bored King Kong), blow at hot air balloons like they are bubbles, and hang off coconut trees and drape them with fairy lights. “Until Gorilla number 50, I used my own pictures, but after that I wanted to give back to the Instagram community that had so encouraged me. So I asked them to send in their pictures and added my gorilla to them,” she says.
But, why a gorilla? “That’s a long story,” laughs Jemma. And it has to do with when she was in Ahmedabad, studying at the National Institute of Design, in a long distance relationship with her husband — fiancé at the time — Rishad Kurian.
“He used to call me when I would be making tea and all the clatter of the pots and pans would make him say, there’s a gorilla in the house,” she says. She fancied the idea of a gorilla roaming about town, and ended up making a short film on a guy and his gorilla girlfriend. “When I decided to take part in the 100-day- project, I wanted to bring the gorilla back,” she says.
After her marriage to Rishad four years ago, she moved to Chennai, and till today, uses the gorilla as a way for familiarising herself with the city. “I had no friends or family here, except for my husband’s. So my gorilla’s curiosity is a reflection of my own,” she says.
Jemma’s pictures are not of the traditional historic or famous buildings. They are of views from balconies, street corners, trees she passes by every day — nooks and crannies she can claim her own.
Her biggest gorilla lies on a mountain, his snores rumbling across the city, while the smallest one, rests on the rim of a coffee cup, drunk on caffeine. Though she maintains that her gorilla is ungendered, it occasionally works as a representation of herself. “I place the gorilla in spots I see myself in, like a balcony I imagine I’d like drinking tea on,” she says. In one of her photos, the gorilla makes puppy eyes, asking to be allowed to play a game of UNO. “That’s because I have a reputation of getting too competitive when it comes to UNO, and no one wants to play with me,” she laughs.
When not sketching gorillas, Jemma illustrates for story books and textbooks. She’s also working on a comic book project in association with a Delhi-based NGO. “I have been drawing ever since I held a pen. My earliest memory is replicating the Little Mermaid, from the show,” she says.