BRICKS editor Tori West discusses cyberbullying and using art as a self-care method with illustrator Venus Libido. Join the duo in conversation as they shine a light on their mutual experiences of the URL world.
I met Venus Libido during one of the most challenging times of my life; an individual I'd never met was harassing me in the feminist community by spreading false allegations about me online. Her comments severely damaged my mental state, and while she pleaded that I posed a risk to the safety other women who associated themselves with me, I felt so isolated. As an advocate for women’s rights, I found it too difficult to speak up about the wrongdoings of another woman; I felt that even accusing a woman of abusing call-out culture, would be considered 'anti-feminist', even while everyone else was labelling it as a jealous attack. So I kept quiet and just hoped it would stop.
Three more months of abuse went by, and what felt like even longer in silence, I hesitantly opened up online about my distress after having to cancel a work event. After an overwhelming amount of feedback, my story hit the newsfeed of Venus Libido, and she dropped in my DMs to offer me her support, “Don’t let other people’s unpleasant views of you stop you from doing what you love.” It was a simple piece of advice, but something I really needed to hear at the time. After checking up on my mental wellbeing a few days later, we struck up a friendship over our shared experiences of cyberbullying, “People who don’t know me were spreading nasty hate posts about me and calling me names that in no way represent what I’m about, I truly thought it would ruin me,” she wrote.
As I start coming to terms with my gloomy online experiences, I sat down with the artist to discuss the negative and positive impacts of URL life to help reassure my faith in virtual sisterhood.
Hey Venus, you’ve previously mentioned to me that you illustrate your problems to make yourself feel better, could you tell me a little bit about why you first took pen to paper? I first put pen to paper at the start of 2017. I had moved out of London and back in with my parents after trying to commit suicide for the second time. I was in such a bad place, and I honestly thought nothing could save me. After taking a long break from the stresses of being an adult, I began to focus on my own mental wellbeing. I soon realised I needed to get back to what truly made me happy, my artistic practice and being creative. I began to illustrate the things I was feeling, thinking and experiencing as a way to better understand it for myself. Whether it was my depression, anxiety, alcoholism or the constant bullying and misogyny I faced throughout my career. Illustrating it became my medicine and a coping mechanism to get through it all.
Could you describe your creative process? What mediums do you use? My creative process is really entirely spontaneous; it's never really planned out as such. I will always develop my ideas from random things that pop into my head. The best ideas always come to me when I’ve had a few glasses of wine or when I have a shower. I get so excited when an idea does pop into my head that I just can’t wait to draw it, so it usually is straight to work before I forget it.
Regarding the mediums, I start by hand drawing rough ideas and then using a lightbox I will neatly redraw the piece. Then I use photoshop to create the rest of the magic.
"I knew then that the only thing to save me was myself and working on my own self-worth and trying to eradicate that shitty little voice in my head."
- Venus Libido
A regular theme throughout your work is mental health. In the past, you’ve explored your own struggles with anxiety, depression and alcoholism. Do you have any self-care tips to share that might help other people that are struggling with similar issues? I truly believe when it comes to coping with mental health that everyone’s self-care has to be tailored to the individual. You have to listen to what your head is saying and what your body needs. I waited nearly two years to get help from the NHS thinking it was the answer to my problems. When I finally did receive help, it wasn’t even for me, and I felt like everyone else’s voice made it worse. I knew then that the only thing to save me was myself and working on my own self-worth and trying to eradicate that shitty little voice in my head. I am always reminding myself that sometimes I need to be selfish and think about me and only me.
As your regularly illustrating your own experiences, the majority of your subjects are women. But of course, there's still a lot of stigma surrounding male mental health issues, why do you think that is? I think it boils down to the way in which society has ingrained in us that men should be mentally and physically fit and anything less is seen as weak. Growing up girls are taught to be sensitive, motherly and caring while boys must get back up, rub the dirt from their knees and not cry like a girl.
I know for me when I first tried to commit suicide it was because for 12 years I was too scared to tell anyone about it and the only way out for me was death. So as a man if it's already ingrained into our society that a man with any emotion should ‘MAN UP’ then that stigma is what’s contributing to suicide rates being higher in men then women. I strongly encourage my partner, my brothers, my friends and even my dad to talk to me if something is wrong. I think we should all play our part in making sure that the men in our lives get the same amount of care mentally as women do.
You’ve made a career for yourself through Instagram, and although a strong social media following can be a great thing for building your career, technology has blurred the lines between personal and professional life. How do you balance that?
When I started sharing my work I knew that it was essential to separate personal and professional. So Venus Libido is my artist name, and then I have my real name. This helps me to disconnect a lot easier from the whole social media side of things. Also, the massive plus of doing this is that Venus Libido allows me to do things that I may not feel confident doing as myself.
With less of our life being private, if you have social capital, online bullies can infiltrate both their victim’s career and social life quite quickly. We’re made to feel that one wrong comment about our character, could snowball and completely ruin our lives. What do you think is the best way to deal with online bullies and negative comments? I think what amazes me the most with social media is how quickly someone judges and makes assumptions about you without even meeting or knowing you. Because there are no immediate consequences to targeting someone through a screen people can go that extra mile with the bullying and nasty, abusive comments. I have had times where people have spread stuff about me because of something I’ve drawn, and I’ve also had very well established people treat me like shit through Insta and in person. I have found it has got worse the more my following grows and especially after Rihanna posted my work. I will never get my head around why someone would want to hurt someone they don’t even know.
But for me, I will probs cry about it for a few hours, but then ill pick myself up and remind myself that what I am doing is helping a lot of other people. I get so many kind and reassuring messages that it does outweigh the bullies. I know deep down my intentions are always good and that’s what keeps me going, and that's all that matters. Also, you can’t please everyone. Especially within art as it is so subjective.
"I think what amazes me the most with social media is how quickly someone judges and makes assumptions about you without even meeting or knowing you."
If you search for advice on cyber-bullying, more often than not, the majority of guidance is for the parents whose child is being threatened. The notion can be so damaging for adults going through similar experiences as it almost makes the issue seem too immature for us and, of course, adults are cyberbullied too. What do you think can be done to make older people feel more comfortable and less embarrassed to admit they’re being harassed online?
I know from experience that telling someone you are being bullied online can almost feel embarrassing. But for the person being bullied all you feel is absolute fear and entirely threatened. When someone is purposefully trying to jeopardise your reputation, your hard work and everything you stand for it’s scary and quite frankly the most upsetting thing I’ve ever experienced. It really does make you question your entire existence.
My advice is to always talk to someone about it first and foremost. I know when I was bullied I told people I trusted both on and off social media. I also think it is very healthy to remove yourself as much as you can from that bully or bullies and take some time away from social media as well. Then maybe come back when your head is clearer and calmer and address it in whatever way you feel right for you. For me, it was illustrating it and making a comment on the effects of online bullying through visual representation.
How do you want other people to feel when they look at your art?
I want people to laugh, and I want people to feel good about their bodies and reassured about their own dark tendencies by me depicting mine. I want my platform and my work to be a place of empowerment and hope and change for everyone. I do enjoy addressing taboo topics with a sense of dark humour, if laughing can’t save us in times of darkness then I don’t know what will.
I recently posted a video of me with a blow torch with the caption "I want to blow torch everyone's dick off" that you reposted. I'd never considered myself as a 'man-hater'; not all men are dicks, I just genuinely get frustrated when some men still refuse to consider a woman's experiences when historically, we've been so oppressed by them. Once, a hetero cis male only understood why they should be sympathetic to a woman's issues until I compared it to how I don't understand how men feel when someone kicks them in the balls. Cis women will never have a personal experience of it, I can't have an opinion on how it feels, but I can still sympathise with a man when it happens. It's like, why is it, you'll understand something if it's compared to your fucking genitals? Later, it sort of reminded me of your 'Dicks in a blender' piece. What was your motivation behind that?
Yeah, its the same thing with my work and that particular piece. I don’t hate all men, and I don’t actually want to put all men's dicks in a blender. It is a comment on men who think its ok to harass or abuse women sexually. If you are offended by it then your most likely one of the men who is not respecting women and their bodies.
That drawing was born because of an incident that happened to me at work. I use to be a decorative artist, painting the homes of the rich and famous, which by the way is not as high as it sounds. On one particular job, there was also a group of builders on the site working alongside us. While sat on my lunch break one of the builders asked me if I worked out. I replied saying ‘not really why?’ To which he said, ‘Well cause I’ve been watching you and you look well flexible up at that ladder’. I was the only female in the room amongst three male builders and two male colleagues of mine. All of them, including the men who I thought, were my friends, laughed hysterically to each other. I went home that night cried for hours, threw up a lot and drank two bottles of wine. That man’s ego goes in my imaginary dick blender!
What's your favourite piece you've created by a personal experience? Did it help you overcome the situation?
I think the piece I did about online bullying helped me through my whole experience of it. I always remind myself that when I start to feel depressed or anxious about something that I must draw the thing that is causing me to feel that way. This way I can remove it from my mind and look it straight in the face quite literally.
I think we all need something in our lives that help us have some form of release whether it be art, writing, running, meditation or sports. We all need some way to vent and a way to process our feelings without always turning to drink, drugs or self-harm.
Whats next for you and your artwork? Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
No exhibitions in the pipeline at the moment but I am doing a lot of commission work and also have some amazing belly pots coming out this month in collaboration with my good friend @potyertitsawayluv. I do have this really cool project I’m starting work on soon with a friend of mine. He is a game developer so I’m going to animate a game around mental health and he’s going to do all the technical stuff.