Alongside Sofia, I hope to be a positive voice within the mental health community. Together we strive to break down barriers and to abolish taboos surrounding mental illness within our greater society. We aim for our artwork to become abstract oxygen for others. For folks to be able to drink in our work and feel nourished by its contents, healed by its pain, and inspired by its fearlessness to be unapologetically authentic.
Sofia is my other half, literally. I like to think of us as a lady with a fault line: as powerful as an earthquake and divided by the lines in the earth of our body. Sofia is mischievous albeit compassionate. She crawls along the floorboards of our human flesh home and makes herself comfortable in the folds of our skin.
So many people try to define Sofia as a pseudonym. But that is much too easy to swallow for a woman so rough around the edges. It seems more truthful to define her as a performance piece, she is a living personification of a mental illness. Through her existence, along with therapy, and medication, I take control of my mental health. I collaborate on works of art with Sofia. In fact, she helped me write this essay.
As an artist and a poet diagnosed as bipolar,
we are cast aside on the ship of fools.
We have the responsibility to stand up and speak.
To destroy misconceptions.
To write our own definition into existence.
Art, for us, is Abstract Oxygen.
It is the little bit of extra air in our lungs.
We believe we’re not the only ones who breathe it.
There are communities of folks who inhale.
We know this because we’ve seen their chests rise and fall.
Now we’re addicted to feeling the air move around us.
There is nothing I believe in more than the power of art to bring together and transform communities. I’ve experienced this firsthand as a young artist who felt isolated in her practice and alienated from the only world she was ever meant to be a part of— the art world; but I met like-minded people and they attracted more like-minded people and together our community grew, and continues to grow to this day. The camaraderie that forms amongst those who were recently strangers is incredible to see, and this happens through creating and sharing an art experience.
Within the last five years, I’ve created the White Toy Box project with a group of friends. Frustrated by the ‘white cube’ narrative we were learning about in all our art history classes, we decided to take the art experience into our own hands by playing with the ‘white box’ idea through literally inserting the word ‘toy’ into it. With this project, we are rejecting the institutionalized gallery setting and declaring, ‘As long as I have a place to lay my head, I have a place to make and share my work.’ Taking accessible spaces — rooftops, living rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and natural spaces — and transforming them into exhibition spaces. Hosting events to showcase everything from sculptural poetry to sound performances, to comedy and printmaking. We put together workshops and teach each other new skills, listen to each other’s perspectives, and connect through shared dialogue.
The existences of Sofia Mish and White Toy Box are radical acts.
And it is these kinds of gestures that I’m interested in. I am invigorated by artists giving other artists a platform to stand on and a microphone to speak through. My goals are to build communities and create safe spaces to exchange ideas and experiences. I want to tell stories; most importantly, I want to hear stories that need to be told.