For many days in January 2017, arts community The Artidote went silent. Founder Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra had just lost his mother, whom he describes as “walking poetry” and his biggest inspiration. In a post on social media, Jovanny revealed this fact and declared that he would be going on a sabbatical from posting art. He also said:
“If I ever plan on leading a community like The Artidote, I should lead by example. And I’m here to encourage expressing yourself, vulnerably, and honestly. The world needs more of that.”
If there anything that explains the soul of The Artidote and its ability to move people, it is this. The Artidote is a space where visual art and text come together harmoniously. In simpler words, Jovanny combines a visual with text that complements it and posts the result on his blog and social media. Before launching The Artidote, he had already built a community around his curation of art and text. He noticed that the posts he was creating generated a “feel-good” vibe in the minds of the people who came across them.
“Whether someone was struggling with a personal development issue, depression, heart-ache, or other general life-ache, I found that the posts had this way of offering a sense of relief through shared experiences and stories,” says Jovanny. This is when he decided to give his posts direction with a mission and name. “That’s how the word antidote came to my mind: a medicine taken or given to counteract a particular poison/something that counteracts an unpleasant feeling or situation. The Artidote just comes with art added into the mix,” he explains.
Jovanny’s curatorial work mainly deals with themes such as the self, identity, love, and loss. “Social media is already over-saturated with externalities: world news, celebrity gossip, cat videos, and what Matt had for breakfast. And I’m more interested in the internal; in exposing or sharing the things we think about the most but talk about the least,” he says. He believes that life, not just social media, becomes more purposeful and human when we talk about these subjects.
Jovanny picks artworks based on a very simple criterion: Does it move him? “There is no equation, no method,” he explains, adding that it is a very personal and visceral decision. He says that the process of combining a particular work of art and writing is more calculated. This is why he laughs when he finds people criticising posts because the texts do not match the visuals. “It’s never at random. Sometimes, I withhold texts/images for weeks or months because I have yet to find their counterpart image/text to dance with,” he says.
Does he ever post art that he does not necessarily like but that he knows his audience will appreciate? “No, I’m not in the business of growing likes,” asserts Jovanny. In fact, he says that sometimes he posts art that he knows will not be liked by many, but will start an important and difficult discussion. Are the most successful posts on his page also his favourites? “The answer is both, yes and no. Sometimes, I’m very grateful that posts I felt deeply about before posting are appreciated widely and virally. Other times with favorite posts, despite not having an awesome reception, I at least feel relieved that it is out there. It might not have an impact of width but there will be an impact of depth amongst a smaller audience.”
Apart from curating texts and visuals, The Artidote also has a ‘SnapThoughts’ forum where people can use Snapchat to reach out to Jovanny to tell him what is on their minds. This initiative was started just last summer (2016), but he receives a hundred Snaps every day on average from people all over the world – from Iraq, Mongolia, Pakistan, Brazil, Kenya, Australia, South Africa, India, Romania, Philippines, China, U.S – the list goes on.
“The SnapThoughts concept started out with a simple question I posted on my Snapchat feed last summer: What time is it there and what are you thinking?” explains Jovanny. He had previously tried this on Facebook and Twitter, but he feels that it is best suited for Snapchat. “The reason, I feel, why Snapchat became a much more fertile ground for this exercise is that the thoughts also come attached with the perspective, literally, of the sender. A SnapThought reveals not only the internal space but also the external reality of the sender, adding much more intimacy to the content,” he says.
Jovanny sees these snaps as works of art. “SnapThoughts is a collective collage of human expression captured in a raw, real, and modern way,” he says. Most of the Snaps he receives are confessions of people’s innermost feelings, vulnerabilities, and fears. “Things that may be too crucial out in the open that you either must keep to yourself or share with a million people on the Internet,” is how Jovanny defines them. What does he think makes it so easy for people to confess to him? He says that anonymity has a large role to play, because a lot of times, thoughts of this kind have literally no other safe space.
“But I must mention that the safe and loving community that is growing around The Artidote plays an even bigger role,” Jovanny adds. This Snapchat initiative, has in fact, helped to save lives and help people to better cope with suicidal thoughts. “When that is the case, I feel that The Artidote feed is fulfilling its purpose and the Snapchat tool becomes much more than just an app,” he says. In the case of the pregnant girl from Bolivia, who did not commit suicide after she received messages from followers of The Artidote, he says that he did not expect that people would begin sending responses meant for the girl. The whole process occurred organically. “The moment I began to see my inbox flooded with supportive and loving messages for the girl, I knew that this community had something special,” he says.
This focus on mental health stems from Jovanny’s belief that so much human potential is lost to mental and emotional instability. “The world is full of brilliant and beautiful minds that are not living to their potential and possibly unlocking answers to world problems because they’ve been crippled by a mental illness,” he says. He is of the opinion that this initiative will help contribute to the discourse on mental illnesses, which in turn will reduce stigma and help understand the mind better.
Bayside Journal asked Jovanny to pick his favourite SnapThoughts. He sent us the following: