Influencer 101: Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra

When Jovanny emigrated to Mexico, his means to communicate with people were limited. When words failed him, he switched to his love of “art” to convey his thoughts and emotions. In his own words,

“Unable to tell anyone my stories with my voice, I turned to the paper and pencil in order to express myself. This would give birth to my passion for art and my understanding of such an important tool for healing, communication, and empathy. Without this event of drastically changing worlds, I would not have gone on to university to study Painting. I would not have then wanted to drastically change worlds again and move to Germany. Berlin-artparasites, the project I co-managed until last May, would not exist as you know it, and I wouldn’t be answering your wonderful questions.”

But instead of using art to merely heal himself, he incorporated social media in his mission to heal others like him. What started as a mere Snapchat story turned into a social media movement, giving rise to a community which Jovanny named “The Artidote”. Resembling the word “antidote”, “The Artidote” is an attempt by Jovanny to provide a space for the individuals who often find it difficult to express their thoughts. As explained on the website,

“Launched in 2015 as a virtual space where to story-tell, empathize, bond and heal through art, today The Artidote community has become a global support group that has saved lives through social media. As it continues to grow, it has expanded beyond the virtual and entered real spaces through Artidote Meetups hosted by Jova in cities across the world.”

For this, he uses the method of storytelling. Instead of writing his own content, Jovanny follows the method of “curation”, combining artworks from different authors and “fusing” them with the stories shared by individuals via social media. These stories have now become symbols for people who use them to share their own dilemma and woes. Sometimes, the conversation can be as simple as a small note to as deep as one’s countless questions around “existence”.

Social media has been dubbed as a medium responsible for contributing estranged relationships and for the breakdown in the communication system but people like Jovanny has made a point of showcasing that the usage of the medium depends a lot on the intention of the user. If there are people who don’t make the good use of the medium, there are others who are trying to move beyond memes to initiate a valuable conversation.

His project has become a driver behind the discourse around mental health and this has a lot to do with the themes he chooses for his stories. In an interview with Peoplefolio, he shared,

“in social media, and particularly Facebook, you have tons of stories being shared that deal with politics, social conflicts, human rights, the environment, etc. Tons. Notice that all of these topics deal with the external conditions: that which is outside of ourselves. And what I’d like to contribute to your already overwhelming feed of important news, unimportant news, listicles, cat photos and what Johnny had for lunch, is the things hidden within us that we rarely dare talk about; the things that make us human, the gems amongst all the dirt, the gold coins hidden deep within the mountain. I believe that the better we understand our internal world, the better we’ll understand our external one, and the better prepared we’ll be to handle and take care of it.”

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"I wonder how much of what weighs me down is not mine to carry." —unknown ? artwork by @Natalia_Bzdak

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Recently, Jovanny was invited to speak at Pristina. The talk was a kick off to the Mental Health Awareness Week organized by The Center for Information & Social Improvement (QIPS). Talking about the tangibility of his social movement, Jovanny shared his experience of meeting people who want to tackle the challenges that need to be overcome before a safe space can be created for people suffering from mental illnesses and also for the people who find it difficult to maintain their mental well being.

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PRISTINA, KOSOVO: UPDATE 1/2 • One of the things that brings me the most joy while running The Artidote is being given the opportunity to be physically present in communities across the world to bring mental health awareness. • At the invitation of @qips_ks, The Center for Information & Social Improvement (a Kosovo-based NGO working to improve the well-being of people in need and raising awareness for problems hidden by stigma), I gave a talk in Pristina this past Monday. It was the kick off to their Mental Health Awareness Week, this year themed around the therapeutic aspects of Art. What made this talk particularly special for me was that translator devices were used (English to Albanian & vice versa) that allowed me to share my journey at The Artidote with every one of the 251 people present. They also gave me the opportunity to understand the panel discussion following my talk between the director of The Mental Health Center in Pristina, a psychologist professor at the University of Pristina & the director of the National Autism Association of Kosovo. • It’s both a privilege and pleasure to get to learn from mental health professionals about the challenges in their particular community; limited access to mental health services, stigmas that need to be dissolved, government policies that need drastic improvement, collective trauma after war, our personal role in prioritizing our mental wellbeing and how we may be of support to others around us. These are all hard but necessary conversations to have if we seek to make a change in the way we talk about & perceive mental illnesses but also in the real challenge of getting adequate support for our mental well-being. Whether we suffer from a mental illness or not, our collective mental well-being is something that we should all care about. After all, we’re all in this together. • Another highlight was that half of the audience were Artidotees✨ It’s such a joy getting to meet you guys face to face! It shows me the real impact of this community, an impact that goes beyond the screen and way beyond just quotes and art ? • Thank you @qips_ks for this opportunity & for the great initiatives you’re undertaking ?

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Sharing his experience through his blog, Jovanny said,

“Half of the audience were Artidotees. This is something special for me. It’s such a joy getting to meet the community face to face. It shows me the real impact of this platform, an impact that goes beyond the screen and way beyond just quotes and art. It also strengthens my sense of responsibility. I’m grateful to see The Artidote growing into something that more and more resembles my dreams.”

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There are words that are more than words; incantations powerful enough to inspire a human being to live—and choose to continue living. ? A year ago I started sharing 15-second, mindful videos that overlaid the word “BREATHE” on them. It was meant as a gentle but powerful call to action. An invitation to do the easiest (but sometimes most difficult) thing to do in the word: live. I never imagined the word would take a life of its own. I never imagined Artidotees would make it a movement. ? Recently, I’ve been receiving a wave of messages coming from Artidotees from all over the world. They have tattooed the word onto their skin, transforming it into a constant, living reminder that will always be with them. Many have chosen to place it on their wrists, where they may have previously inflicted pain onto their bodies. This final act of pain (as anyone who’s gotten a tattoo knows) then becomes a promise: to let this be the last time we inflict pain onto our fragile bodies; to breathe, especially in moments where it may seem the most difficult thing to do; to choose to live. A choice that, at its core, is an act of self-love. ? May we daily choose to breathe. All my love, @jovaferreyra #WeAreAllInThisTogether

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Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra is our choice for “Influencer 101” because he has been able to show how innovation can be used for the betterment of humankind. He might not be as “powerful” as a CEO of an eCommerce giant but his words and endeavor have an impact that can’t be measured in monetary terms. He shares stories that thousands of people relate to and his understanding of the importance of empathy and self-awareness provide solace to people who often find it tough to find a listening ear.

You can follow The Artidote on Instagram. Do you follow this beautiful account? Share your thoughts about it via tweet @Fuzzable.

Written by ayushi

Hello! I am Ayushi from India. I love writing poetry, listening to K-POP and spending time alone. Writing is what defines me and I am on the journey to make the definition as good as possible.

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