Censorship And Vegan NFTs: Conversation With Banned Artist, Victoria West

Confessions of a Crypto Art Collector

At the start of 2020 I made a resolution to go vegan for January as part of a campaign called 'Veganuary.' After one month, I felt fitter, healthier and happier so decided to keep it going.

Being vegan is not an easy path.  At best, misunderstood (Can you still eat dried egg?). At worst, reviled as self-righteous and smug. I’ve heard all the jokes about what vegans eat: rocks and dust.

All was well until a party in a friend's garden last summer. The considerate hosts had prepared separate dishes for anyone with specific dietary needs. The main course, lentil curry was delicious. However, for dessert, I was offered fruit salad or cherry pie. Without hesitation I took the pie and was halfway through it before someone said, 'I thought you were a vegan?' An honest mistake after a couple of glasses of wine I hear you say.

But I have a confession to make: I enjoyed that pie so much, I fell off the vegan wagon!

I was reminded of this incident when Victoria West joined the Women of Crypto Art (WOCA) community. She introduced herself saying, “Hi! Excited to be here! I’m a portrait photographer from New Brunswick, Canada. I’ve been making creative artwork for myself for a few years but no one wants to buy it for their physical walls....cause it’s different. That’s why I’m loving the NFT community so much, there's space for all types of artwork.”

Seeing her art, I was surprised to discover that her NFTs were not paintings but photographs. Strong and unapologetic, her photographs are works of fine art. Victoria is a Master of Photographic Arts and international award winning photographer. I was intrigued and wanted to meet her to find out more.

WARNING: Some of this art is shocking. Themes include cruelty, death, destruction, mental health and religion. Some of these pictures have been BANNED. Once you see these images, you can't un-see them! If you are of a nervous disposition STOP READING NOW!

Victoria is the first person ever to hold the title 'Professional Photographers of Canada's Portrait Photographer of the Year' 3 years running in 2019, 2020 and 2021.  When asked about all her awards she laughs and says, “I'm competitive.”

As an animal rights activist, the arguments Victoria hears are usually centred around the comparison that humans have superior intellect to other animals who only operate on instinct. In her art, she asks people to put themselves in the place of the victim. This is the inspiration behind her first NFT. Homo Sapien - Earth is an animated GIF based on an award winning photograph and shows a young woman as an exhibit in an intergalactic zoo. The first of Victoria's series, based on “aliens acting like humans.” The description reads, “If aliens colonize earth, we better hope and pray they don't treat us in the same way we treat ‘lesser’ beings.”

Staring at the image, the spectre of an alien drifts past the cage. It gives me chills! 

Not only is Victoria a creative photographer, activist and artist, she is a vegan. Herbivore beautifully demonstrates, the old adage, you are what you eat. The model is a vegan in real life. With her glowing face and hair, she is literally a picture of health. There wasn't a photo of a rib cage available so this was illustrated by Victoria although, she doesn't consider herself a painter.

Dedicated to raising awareness of animal rights issues, Victoria's art is unapologetic. Humane Meat has haunted me from the moment I saw it. Within the “aliens acting like humans” series, lies a dystopian world where humans are the ones incarcerated in the cattle truck. It's not easy on the eye, nor should it be. In the words of Morrissey in the 1980's Smiths song, 'Meat is Murder!'

The despair of the captives, huddled together, naked and innocent. The art was inspired by images of pigs on the way to slaughter. It's a composite, photographed and pieced together in Photoshop.

This art has won international photography awards. Controversially it was banned from the Foundation platform which aims to provide culturally pioneering curation for NFT artists. After an explanation from Victoria on the context of the piece, the artwork has been reinstated on the site.  Being banned however, has not done Victoria any harm. That same week, her Twitter following trebled from 300 to 900. People undoubtedly eager to see what they were missing.

Determined to raise awareness of the fight against injustice, #Meat Too is similarly not comforting, cheery or kind.  This composited image of multiple photographs shows a beautiful young woman, naked and dripping in blood. A commentary on social justice issues. It has multiple themes that connect to both women and animal rights. Like the prom scene in Stephen King's horror classic, Carrie, this image is intended to shock and provoke reaction, allowing the viewer to decide what the image means to them. Foundation, who claim to move culture forward, decided to ban this artwork saying it had connotations of violence against women. 

Not everyone understands Victoria’s art. Not everyone likes it, as in this Tweet.

So what makes good art and should it be censored? The secret is that there is no secret. It’s a matter of perception. One artist may be considered amazing to one individual but terrible or shocking to another. 

Until We Meet Again is a multi-award winning image which shows a final moment in a beautiful way and is very close to Victoria's heart. No one wants to die alone. Losing a loved one is one of the hardest things in life. But the pandemic has robbed so many people of the opportunity to say goodbye.

In a homage to a religious masterpiece, The Last Supper plays off Leonardo da Vinci's iconic painting of the same name. Created in January 2020, it is a snapshot in time when Australia was burning out of control. As the landscape burns, a modern day Christ contemplates how human consumption is destroying the planet. People were distressed that animals were dying in the fires. But as Victoria points out, animals are dying every day, we are eating them.

Victoria's latest series is dedicated to conquering our demons. The Climb out of the fire and into a better place, represents the struggle to reclaim mental health and overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.

Victoria's work is authentic. To ensure a catalogue of images are available for her art, she photographs everything from the sky to the dirt and everything in between. Through her bold use of colours and intense lighting, Victoria's creative talent results in dramatic fine artworks with lasting impact.

When not taking photos, Victoria does outreach on the street raising awareness of the need to protect animals. Her philosophy is, to speak up for the creatures in the cages who can't speak for themselves.  Love it or hate it, Victoria's art evokes emotion and I am hopeful it will act as a catalyst to inspire cultural change.

I am 95% vegan with room for improvement. Will I ever go back to a 100% plant-based diet? If anyone could convince me, its Victoria and her art.

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