Indian American data artist at UPenn wants to tell lesser known stories

Roopa Vasudevan (Courtesy: University of Pennsylvania)

Indian American Roopa Vasudevan has produced more than 400 episodes of MTV’s True Life, for the past four years, was a graduate student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and is now ready to attend the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

During her four years in the television industry, Vasudevan learned to become creative.

According to a press release, her artistic practice involves collecting data on social and political issues such as online hate speech, birth control accessibility and hip hop lyrics, and then creates interesting and visually appealing ways to convey that data to others.

In fact, Vasudevan’s master’s program in interactive telecommunications allowed her to learn computer programming, which introduced her to data visualization.

For example, during the 2016 presidential primary season, Vasudevan wrote a computer program to collect every tweet that mentioned any of the 22 presidential candidates by name and then began filtering the data set down to only include tweets sent from or concerned with Ohio, according to a press release.

She represented the things Twitter users were saying about the presidential candidates by using their own campaign merchandise styling, like placing the words of the tweet on a campaign sign, button or bumper sticker and using the same colors, typography, imagery and logos to identify a specific candidate.

Vasudevan has also worked on a project called #Bellwether, which was originally commissioned by SPACES, an art space in Cleveland, Ohio, and exhibited there in the summer of 2016.

It was this project that made her want to pursue her Ph.D.

Vasudevan plans to use her time at Annenberg to consider how data collection impacts the way that history is written and viewed, as well as whose stories are being left out in the dominant narrative about technology and access to technology and how to develop a more ethical approach to collecting data.



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