BENGALURU: Often, we find ourselves unable to express our feelings clearly, even with those closest to us, making us feel lonely or isolated. But with the growth of social media, many have found solace in strangers across the globe. One such platform that has affected and connected the lives of many is The Artidote. This online community is a space where people can tell stories, empathise, bond and heal through art. Beautiful, moving artwork and captions that capture every sort of emotion - sadness, loneliness, anger, love, lust and more - have helped many feel like they’re not alone.
Creator and curator of this community, Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra, was in Bengaluru recently for the Under 25 Summit as keynote speaker. City Express got in touch with him on how he got started, and about how being an emotionally strong person has helped him deal with the touching stories he hears on a daily basis. Here’s an excerpt of the conversation we had with him:
How did you get started on The Artidote?
In practical terms, The Artidote was launched on Facebook on May 15, 2015. It was an evolutionary step from a pilot project I had been working on for over a year (Berlin Artparasites) that acquired quite the traction on social media. In non-practical terms, The Artidote began when I was a ten-year- old Mexican immigrant now living in the US. I was bullied in school for being different and not knowing the language or the new social structures. Not having the proper tools to communicate my feelings, expressing myself through art became my only means of connecting with others. It was my way to tell stories when I didn’t have a voice. Creating bonds through storytelling, visual and textual, is still one of the foundational pillars of The Artidote.
Why did you decide to move on from Berlin Art Parasites?
After a year of being a community manager for the Berlin-based online magazine, I realised that I had stumbled upon something much bigger than what my job description there entailed. I felt that, in order to make my dreams reach their full potential, I needed to have 100% creative control over the platform and community I had begun to build. The Artidote became a natural evolution into something bigger. It offered me the fertile ground where to expand my creative ideas revolving my passions for storytelling, social media, psychology and philanthropy.
Your tagline is ‘mental health over every damn thing’. To what extent do you think art can help people cope with mental illness?
From personal experience, I can say that practicing any art form is therapeutic in nature. Whether it is painting, writing, dance, playing music - any art practitioner will tell you how good it feels to be in that creative zone. I have the suspicion that it’s because art allows us to open up a space where to feel what we’re feeling, freely. It sounds simple, but having those spaces where to feel openly all your feelings can be very difficult to find. And only when we are allowed to feel what we’re feeling, can any sort of healing begin to happen.
You’ve saved lives through social media. Do you feel a sense of responsibility towards the millions of people connected to you through The Artidote?
Always. At first I refused to believe that social media (and what I did with it) had the power to save lives. But that refusal was mainly due to my fear of the responsibility it brought with it. I’m no longer afraid. I want to lead The Artidote with vulnerable honesty, with the hopes that it inspires as many people as possible along the way. There is an unspoken fact that I had to accept a long time ago, however. And that is the fact that I will not be able to save every single person that comes in contact with The Artidote on any of its channels. It’s an impossibility and responsibility that no person would ever be able to carry. I can only work towards creating a safe, supportive and powerful enough space where to sustain each other and remind ourselves that we are all in this together.
What was your experience like here in Bengaluru at the Under 25 Summit? Did you ever think you’d create something so powerful that has people coming together across continents?
To be honest—and I don’t think I’ve ever put this on the record—yes. Ever since I was a teenager, I dreamt of creating something of impact that had to do with art. I didn’t know what it was back then. But life has a way of making things happen when you align yourself in direction of your dreams.