We were able to exchange a few messages with the artist behind the series beautifully drawn illustrations based on anonymous confessions from strangers online.

I first saw Issa’s work as I was tapping through my friend’s Instagram Stories. There it was: an illustration of red-tinted sunglasses against a plain white background, coupled with a hand-written text that read: “All the red flags I ignored were right.”

This artwork was posted several months ago, but it’s still one of my personal favorites.

It might be because the situation of ignoring red flags due to infatuation hit too close to home at the moment, but despite the illustration being of something that is so mundane, and despite the one-liner accompanying it not even providing a lot of context to the entire story, Issa’s artwork felt too real. She managed to make me feel so much with so little, and make me feel a connection with her work within the fleeting 15 seconds of an Instagram Story. And I wanted more.

This lead me to tap on the post and then start scrolling through Issa Barte’s profile. Take note, at this point I didn’t know the context behind her work—much less the stories or the artist behind them.

The connection I felt with her work, the sheer vulnerability of the words being spoken, the choice to have abstract visuals or feature inanimate objects—this all tied together when I clicked a link on Issa’s Instagram bio that lead to a survey on Google Docs (you know, the type we usually ask people to answer for our classes). In the survey, she asks strangers to anonymously answer a prompt she has put up. These anonymous responses are then written down and interpreted into illustrations, which together form beautifully executed works of art. that make up Issa Barte’s “100” series.

That’s why I felt the connection. That’s why it felt so honest. That’s why the drawing looked like it could be anyone (or better yet, it could be me). Issa was telling the stories of people she didn’t know, and people are more than happy to share deeper, more intimate things to her because of that.

As of this writing, Issa is currently working on her fourth prompt, which is “The Stranger’s Diary.” The first three were: “tell me about the time you felt most hurt,” “tell me about a time you felt genuinely happy,” and “share your defining moment.” It’s more open compared to the previous prompts in the sense that it merely asks strangers to share a secret—whether negative or positive, shameful or triumphant. According to her, this might be the culminating part of her “100” series.

“I personally learned that sharing your feelings can help one’s mental stability. When things started stirring inside, it helped to share it, either by verbally communicating it, or laying it out in a poem or a painting, I understood myself better when I saw it in real life instead of letting it get messy in my head. If these things helped me, maybe it could help others, especially in feeling heard.”

Issa Barte (@issabarte.art)

Issa’s work is a beautiful and welcome addition to conversations we see online, in which anonymity is often used as a weapon to spread hate (I’m looking at you, people who weaponize CuriousCat or send hateful comments behind spam accounts). Instead, she takes the empowerment that comes from anonymity and chooses to turn it into an outlet for the shame, the hurt, the joy, or the feelings that need to be aired out by those who are too ashamed to share them openly.

More than being an outlet, Issa’s work is able to connect different people through the stories she interprets through her art from the individuals who have been given an opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences. It’s a comforting feeling when you realize how there are people out there who have found themselves in similar circumstances as what you’re feeling now. It makes you feel more understood.

In parallel, I can imagine the comfort of those who took the bold step of submitting anonymous confessions to Issa, and to see how there are other people who felt the feelings they were ashamed of feeling. It serves as a reminder that there are people who are hurting or celebrating with you, that whether in shame or in triumph, you are not alone.

“Whether its through the poetry my friends and I write, or through the anonymous submissions I illustrate—it would be a really nice feeling if I could help people tune into their feelings, challenge their thinking, or strive for something better for themselves. It seems like a lot, but the power of words is infinite, and I have a strong belief in the force of its meaning when we put them together.”

Issa Barte (@issabarte.art)

Going back to the first post of Issa’s that I saw, I still do not know the context of the stranger’s submission other than it was submitted in response to the prompt “tell me about the time you felt most hurt.” I do not know if that person has gotten better or if they’re still hurting. And I do not have to. I just took comfort in knowing that I shared that experience with someone out there, and at that time, in more ways than one, it helped.

Follow Issa on her Instagram page @issabarte.art (she also has a Facebook page of the same name), and go through the stories of strangers she has already shared on her page as part of the final leg of her “100” series, or submit one of your own! Issa also does freelance commissions that you could keep for yourself or give to your loved ones, and now and then illustrates her and her friends’ poems and writings—all in her distinct style of drawing that more and more people on the internet are beginning to recognize.