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Sophie Peterson: An Artist’s Journey Toward Radical Acceptance

Sophie Peterson, a 24-year-old from Long Grove, Illinois, can pinpoint the exact moment she knew she wanted to become an artist. It was after she won a drawing contest in third grade. After that, she would frequently attend the Art Institute of Chicago with her parents and try to recreate the paintings in her notebook. At eight years old she was no Picasso (she says the drawings were “terrible”) but that didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the art. 

Through her Radical Acceptance series, Sophie faces her feelings of anxiety and depression

Over the years, Sophie admits she temporarily left behind her artwork for fear it would lead to an unprofitable career. She majored in international studies at Colorado State University but it wasn’t until she briefly left college that she rediscovered her love for art and used it to help cope with PTSD, anxiety and her decade-long battle with bulimia nervosa. 

“For the entirety of my recovery journey, art has been the one thing to keep me stable and has led me to have these revelations to see where I am in my mental health and where I am in my recovery,” she says. 

Sophie hopes that her work will encourage others to talk about their mental health

“I remember when I was in art therapy, sitting with a ball of clay trying to mold it and I burst into tears because I couldn’t get it. That was the moment I recognized that I had problems that needed to be resolved.” 

Through her Radical Acceptance series, she faces these issues head on and encourages others to do the same. The inspiration came at the end of her college career, a time when she was unsure of the path ahead and anxious about her future. So, she took her stress, fear and anxiety and channeled it into a series of abstract paintings that are a direct representation of anxiousness and obsession through repetitive details and mark making. 

“My goal is to talk about my own experiences and let people in on the fact I was really not okay for a period of time and I figured out a way to work through that without using fun, self-care tactics,” she says. “I want people to know they aren’t the only ones going through this.” 

Sophie has always tried to be as authentic as possible with her work, which speaks to the experiences she has gone through with her mental health journey and what it’s like to feel “in your own head” all the time. 

Radical Acceptance is a series of abstract paintings that are a direct representation of anxiousness and obsession

As someone who suffered from an eating disorder for an extended period in her life, Sophie says she that her work also focuses on depression and the inability to see yourself the way other people see you. 

“My experiences are really definitive of what my art stands for,” she says. “I want people to look at the work and put their own thoughts onto it. But once they hear the story behind it, they seem to open up and talk about their own experiences, which has been extremely gratifying.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 Americans experience some form of mental illness a year. Despite the common nature of mental illnesses occurrence, sharing individuals’ experiences with it remain a stigmatized topic.

Sophie and her boyfriend

Sophie and her boyfriend

With her art, Sophie is able to give people, who may not have the words to describe how they’re feeling, the tools for them to express themselves or identify why they may be feeling a certain way, which was the first step on Sophie’s road to recovery.

It’s been a long journey, but one Sophie says she wouldn’t change. “In general, there are time when I look back and think, ‘I wish I would have done this differently,’ but when I reframe thinking in terms of where I was at mentally and the trajectory that I’ve been on, I don’t think I have any regrets – life is what it is.” 

She laughs knowing how cliché it sounds, but also realizing how true it is, especially for her and so many others around the world. 

“The best part is when the audience kind of falls into a piece and puts their own interpretation on the artwork,” she says. “It might lead them to think about certain memories or experiences, which can help start a conversation about how they’re feeling. I don’t care if people love my work or not, but if people are talking about their mental health, then that means I’ve done something for them.”

To find out more about Sophie Peterson, follow her on Instagram.

There’s Nothing Daniella Mazzio Can’t Do

If you haven’t heard of Daniella Mazzio, a 23-year-old artist living in Chicago, you should consider fixing that. A DePaul University graduate and trained theatre, film and performance artist, her work has been featured at the Illinois High School Theatre Festival, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and YesFest at the Elmhurst Art Museum to name a few. 

In November 2016 she created a sketch, Film Revue, based on famous Oscar-winning films and a month later, she premiered her one-act play boxes at Prop Thtr. She is currently working on her play, Polyanna but her “baby” as she describes is her comedic variety show she co-developed with fellow artists titled ‘Cago!. 

Her love for art began when she was around eight years, mostly due to her parents whom she says are the “pop culture king and queen of the Chicago suburbs.” Her dad is a TV, movie and music buff and her mom is a visual artist who paints and sketches. 

I can tell when she talks about her parents that she has a great admiration for them, which was perhaps why art has become something for her that “just makes sense,” especially when it comes to working within different mediums. 

As an artist and comedian, Daniella says she’s glad her profession brings people joy

As an artist and comedian, Daniella says she’s glad her profession brings people joy

“I’ve never understood why people limit themselves within art,” she says. “That causes conflicts and ego because you don’t have an understanding of every field. Why wouldn’t you learn as much as you can to expand what you do?”

Since she started working toward diversifying her craft, it has become clear that comedy has become the medium she finds the most rewarding. “Comedy consistently makes me the happiest,” she says. “It [comedy] came when I didn’t have a plan. It fulfills me in a way other things don’t. I’m just fortunate that it’s working out.” 

And while it was her curiosity that drove her to explore comedy, another part of it was the “institutional” discrimination in theatre. Daniella says she’s fortunate to not have dealt with it directly but she still acknowledges that as women in the field, it can be hard to get your big break. 

“I look at people who get booked and a lot of them are white men,” she says. “It’s hard not to have that sinking feeling because as a woman you either have to be amazing or you’re out whereas you can be an adequate white man and get booked – that tells me something is going on.”

But that hasn’t stopped her. In fact, nothing seems to slow her down but rather propel her to create content drawn from real-life experiences – no matter the topic. 

In October 2017, Daniella was diagnosed with depression after a “close brush with suicide,” which she describes as a fragile position where she didn’t trust that she wouldn’t hurt herself. Three months prior to the diagnosis she was sexually assaulted. 

Daniella tells me she hates calling it “rape” because the situation wasn’t violent but she also recognizes that lack of consent and the betrayal of trust by someone who was a close friend at the time. 

“The bullet point it always comes down to is I had told him no previously in the night, and he manipulated my trust so that I would continue spending the evening with him under the belief that nothing would happen. And when it did – the moment he betrayed that trust – I froze,” she says. 

“It's hard to call it rape because all I can see were all the things I did wrong,” she adds. “And when someone you care about does it, you don't want them to be a person who would do that to you. You want to protect them.” 

Daniella was diagnosed with depression last October but isn’t shy about sharing her real-life experiences

Daniella was diagnosed with depression last October but isn’t shy about sharing her real-life experiences

It took Daniella months of telling her friends, parents and therapist the story several times, often with her own bias of guilt, to finally come to terms with what had happened. 

“I would've rather just lived in the feeling of it being an awkward night than dealing with the emotional and physical violations, the loss of a friend, and the depression that followed. But the brain and the body know,” she says. 

“Talking about it was hard and intense, but after it was over I felt this gigantic weight gone. I had looked at the thing head on, and it couldn't have power over me anymore. It was my story.”

She shares her story through her art and says she’s a firm believer in making jokes about something that has happened to you because “it’s your narrative and your feelings.”

“I do jokes about rape culture. I have a whole song I wrote following the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearings called Thank You (For Not Raping Me) that roasts the whole pedestal that we put men on for not being monsters,” she says. 

“I think it's pretty funny and it makes me happy when it lands. I think because I'm a comedian, it makes me want to be more honest about this sort of thing outside of my comedy just to remind people that I'm not just a two-dimensional jokester, that there are still serious and intimate qualities to me. I think that makes me better as an artist.”

Although she has explored different artistic mediums, Daniella says the one that makes her the happiest is comedy

Although she has explored different artistic mediums, Daniella says the one that makes her the happiest is comedy

“Depression, suicide, sexual assault – these things shouldn’t be silenced because they’re a part of my life,” she adds. But she admits, sometimes she struggles with how much people should see. To remedy showcasing too much of her personal life, she aims to portray these issues through a character and with every true story, she’ll add an untrue statement so it’s not “all me.”

But she is still very open to speaking about her depression and has “no shame” when it comes to her diagnosis. “I talk about it because it’s something people go through and it’s great I got help,” she says. “It’s another life thing that needed to happen.” 

She has dealt with it with medication, therapy and of course, art, which has managed to seep it’s way into our society through various forms, according to Daniella. 

“Memes are even art,” she says. “I want to go to grad school for media studies – the study of pop culture – because art is everywhere and I would love to trace how it’s changed and why we need it. Why was Britney Spears so important to us? Why are the Kardashians?” 

Daniella Mazzio, 23, is a trained theatre, film and performance artist in Chicago

Daniella Mazzio, 23, is a trained theatre, film and performance artist in Chicago

She doesn’t necessarily have the answer to that question but she does think art has the power to incite change – especially comedy as it was “birthed to political commentary.” 

I can’t help but ask if she’s a Saturday Night Live fan, which these days, has no shortage of political content to mock, but her answer surprises me. 

“I think SNL desensitized people to Trump and that’s how he got elected,” she says. “The intent is to just be relevant. Sure, it’s funny but like-minded work to like-minded people is not productive. If I’m doing liberal comedy, I don’t want to say the same thing every liberal believes. It doesn’t seem like the right way to bring about a conversation.”

So she’s not the biggest fan of the show but then again, she tells me her goal isn’t to be a comedian on SNL – it’s simply to make people laugh. 

“Art and comedy can make people feel better and if that’s the only impact – that’s noble,” she says. “I like the idea of people having fun for an hour. It’s an escape, a reprieve and a community where people can have fun and find commonalities. Is that change? I don’t know but it makes people feel good and that’s important to me.” 

Bringing people joy, if only fleeting makes what she does worthwhile but she hopes that through her art, she can dedicate herself to learning new things and “opening the paths that are untraveled” so she can grow not only as artist but as a person too.

“I would love to be a better person because one better person in the world is something more than we had before,” she says. “That’s more hours spent laughing, and more empathy in the universe. You can’t change the mind of hateful people but you can figure out how they got there and figure out a game plan to prevent it.”

“I’m still trying to find my voice,” she adds but it’s not really about her voice she explains. “If you’re a person of privilege then it’s about listening to those who aren’t. It’s about matching our society’s needs while creating a better society.” 

Can art make that happen? Leave it to Daniella to find out. 

40 Years After Jonestown, This Is How a Survivor Wants the Victims to Be Remembered

Forty years ago, more than 900 members of the California-based cult, Peoples Temple, died in a mass murder-suicide initiated by the eccentric, alluring and increasingly paranoid, Jim Jones. It was largest loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until September 11. Most people know the story or at least pieces of Peoples Temple history, as Jones is one of the most infamous cult leaders in American culture. 

Peoples Temple members gathered with a banner advertising Jim Jones and Peoples Temple in San Francisco 1972. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Peoples Temple members gathered with a banner advertising Jim Jones and Peoples Temple in San Francisco 1972. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

But despite what we read or watched in many of the subsequent television shows and documentaries, “outsiders” may never fully understand the how and why behind the mass suicide. 

But Laura Johnston Kohl, a Jonestown survivor, says the world shouldn’t focus on how the victims died but rather how they lived – with a collective hope and desire to make the world better.

A Young Activist 

Laura Johnston Kohl (center) with other Peoples Temple members during a refueling stop on the way to Guyana in 1974. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Laura Johnston Kohl (center) with other Peoples Temple members during a refueling stop on the way to Guyana in 1974. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Today, Laura is 71, years and heartaches removed from her 22-year-old self who became a member of Peoples Temple. She grew up in Washington D.C., becoming a young adult during one of the most tumultuous times in American history. The Vietnam War was tearing our country apart. Young men were dying halfway across the world and the Civil Rights movement was bringing racial injustices to the forefront. 

“People were dying and I wanted to do something to change that,” Laura says. “John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were all assassinated and I wanted to do something to change the world.”

So she protested at the Pentagon in the late 60s and enrolled at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut where she studied philosophy until she failed out after three years. 

“I had a guidance counselor ask me how you flunk out after three years because no one flunks out after three years – it’s usually after the first semester or first year but I guess I’ve always been an odd duck out,” she says. 

In 1969, she got married but soon after got a divorce. She later found love with a fellow activist, when she dated a Black Panther. However, this relationship was also not meant to be. 

Every Wednesday night, Laura would open up her apartment so the Black Panthers could hold weekly meetings even though she lived in a building with all white, mostly middle-class residents and at the time, a lot of neighborhoods were not integrated. 

But one evening, Laura’s then-boyfriend shot another member who was supposedly sitting too closely to Laura during a meeting. The victim didn’t die, but Laura recalls how she, as a white woman couldn’t go with the other members to take the victim to the hospital. She was left alone in her apartment, tasked with cleaning up the blood in the living room, in the stairwell and in the lobby. 

“There are times in my life that things have happened that are so clear,” she says. “We call it a teachable moment in education but that was a moment in my life I realized things were going really wrong. My calling was to be involved in politics and as I was doing the clean up, I knew this wasn’t the right way to do that.”

In March 1970, wanting a fresh start, she moved to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco to be with her older sister. Less than a week after moving to California she was introduced to Jim Jones. 

When Good People Follow A Bad Leader 

Jim Jones speaking to Peoples Temple in 1978. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Jim Jones speaking to Peoples Temple in 1978. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Her older sister brought her to Peoples Temple but rejected the church mainly because she was put off by Jones’ oversized ego. But Laura wasn’t naïve – she saw it too but overlooked his hubris because she was “delighted” to belong to a family of like-minded people. 

“The ends justified the means,” she says. “I viewed Jim as my protector and a father figure – I thought it was going to work.”

“They [the members] were some of the best people I ever knew. Just because Jim Jones was bad doesn’t mean that that the people who trusted him were bad. They just wanted to make the world better – the whole truth doesn’t get explained very often.”

One of the things Laura loved most about Peoples Temple was how it exposed her to people and things she never knew before. In her early days, she recalls meeting lawyers, medical students, accountants, teachers and “wonderful people of all colors and all backgrounds.”  

“The part of Peoples Temple I love even to this day was that we were a group of people who had more differences than similarities,” she says. 

“When Jim talked about having an integrated community, we had all visualized that. We were people who were not happy with the status quo and so however different we were in race, background, education or economics, we made a commitment to bring about an integrated community – these were people determined and dedicated to do that.” 

Laura Johnston Kohl (far right) performing in Jonestown 1978. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Laura Johnston Kohl (far right) performing in Jonestown 1978. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Their faith wasn’t in Jones. Their initial and fundamental goal was to move the country away from racial and societal divisions into a more inclusive era – a country with “freedom and racial equality,” Laura says. 

Extremely ambitious goals required even more extreme mindsets and work ethics. In sum, the members of Peoples Temple took their political duties seriously. They integrated everything they did and tackled stereotypes, racial training and entitlement in order to bring about a change. 

“People say Jim was a great speaker with a charismatic personality and he was all those different things. But really, he just brought together people who were already dissatisfied with how the world was going,” she says. 

“Even when we weren’t with him, we were a group of people determined to make a difference in this world and not accept things. A lot of the time that’s overlooked.”

During her time in Peoples Temple, Laura became friends with people who had sat at lunch counters in Alabama, who had worked with the Black Panthers in Oakland or who worked with the Native Americans to restore their rights. 

While Laura admits Jones did focus them along the way, she says the members were willing to make sacrifices for the betterment of society before they met him. 

Dreams In A Different Land  

Guyanese Drivers License of Laura Johnston Kohl. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Guyanese Drivers License of Laura Johnston Kohl. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

In March 1977 – seven years from when she first joined Peoples Temple – Laura moved to Guyana. Jones hired Laura to work in Georgetown to send the necessary items to get Jonestown up and running.

She bought everything from machinery parts to new shoes and medicine and shipped the supplies by boat, which would take another 24 hours to reach Jonestown, after the ship docked in Georgetown. 

She held this role for a year until March 1978 when Jones asked her to move to Jonestown, where she worked on the public services department and agricultural crew. At night, she taught Spanish to the children and worked in the law office. 

Although she loved her work in Jonestown and Georgetown, the cracks in Jones’ façade were starting to appear. “He was finding out a lot that summer – the summer that there were nearly 1,000 people there,” Laura says. 

“He was finding out Jonestown was never going to be self-sufficient, he was finding out that at least nine families had gone to court stating that Jim didn’t have the legal authorization to have certain kids there – some were foster kids and other were taken by their grandparents or other relatives,” she says. “And later, two of his secretaries left Jonestown.”

And on top of that, he was finding out Congressman Leo Ryan planned to visit Guyana. 

Jonestown victim, Evelyn Leroy and Laura Johnston Kohl (far right) speaking with a Guyanese man in Georgetown 1977. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Jonestown victim, Evelyn Leroy and Laura Johnston Kohl (far right) speaking with a Guyanese man in Georgetown 1977. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

As the walls started to cave in, Jones became increasingly more paranoid and his response was to spread this fear among the other Peoples Temple members. 

In late October 1978, Jones sent Laura back to Georgetown. She went willingly; not realizing everything he knew or what was to come weeks later. 

Days before the Jonestown massacre, Congressman Ryan paid a visit to those living in Georgetown, asking them about Jones and how they were liking it Guyana. 

Laura didn’t know Jones’ primary intent of sending her to Georgetown was for appearances, or in other words, to “stack the house” with people who loved Jonestown and would personify that love and stability to the congressman.

“I loved Guyana. I loved working in Georgetown, I loved Jonestown – I loved all of it,” she says. “So what Jim had done is that he had put everyone in Georgetown who liked it to make sure they were in front and the people who had reservations were sent back to Jonestown. He had set up a situation where Ryan only saw the cheerleaders of the group and that’s what I was.”

The events leading up to the massacre are well known as the murder of Congressman Ryan and four others set the stage for what was to come in both Jonestown and Georgetown where Sharon Amos, top aide to Jones, killed herself and her three children. 

There were about 50 people living in Georgetown, with Laura being one of the people not present in Jonestown where the mass murder-suicide took place. 

Laura used to believe it was a fluke that she survived but now, knowing what she does about Jones, she realizes that it was all part of his strategy to have positive people front and center in Georgetown. Essentially, what saved her was her devotion to Peoples Temple, which ironically could have also been the thing that killed her. 

“There’s no way that I could watch 917 of the people I love die and for some reason think I shouldn’t,” she says. “So I can’t imagine surviving Jonestown. It was tough enough when I didn’t see it so there’s not much question in my mind that I would survive something like that.” 

A Survivor Honors Her Family 

Laura Johnston Kohl (far right) at the 36th anniversary gathering at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, CA, on November 18, 2014. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Laura Johnston Kohl (far right) at the 36th anniversary gathering at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, CA, on November 18, 2014. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

In May of this year, Laura was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma. She says it’s an up in the air diagnosis but she’s currently undergoing chemotherapy and fortunately, has the support from other survivors who have also been instrumental in helping her cope with the loss of the people she initially thought she would be spending the rest of her life with. 

“There can never be closure,” she says. “Only acknowledgement for the people that died. Fifteen of my closest friends are people who were a part of Peoples Temple. There’s not a way for someone who wasn’t a survivor to get it.”

Since the events at Jonestown 40 years ago, Laura says her view of leadership and religion has changed drastically. She now describes activism as her religion and makes a point to question people in a position of power – and encourages others to do the same. 

Jonestown survivors Claire Janaro, Juanell Smart (right), Laura Johnston Kohl (standing) celebrate Thanksgiving in 2009. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Jonestown survivors Claire Janaro, Juanell Smart (right), Laura Johnston Kohl (standing) celebrate Thanksgiving in 2009. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

She currently lives in San Diego where she’s heavily involved with the Southern Poverty Law Center, immigration groups and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) where she works to make changes to America’s prison system. 

“It’s really important to get a justified incarceration system so it’s not a reversal to slavery,” she says. “There’s a huge preponderance of people in prison – people of color who have had misdemeanors or lightweight cases and they’re held over because they don’t have money for bail.”

And last year, Laura even had a young man receiving sanctuary live at her home while he was finishing high school. 

Laura believes the members of Peoples Temple who died would be proud of her for what she’s doing but she also thinks that on November 18, 1978 the world lost key figures that would have been crucial in helping her address these issues. 

Laura Johnston Kohl (far left) at the 36th anniversary gathering at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, CA, on November 18, 2014. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Laura Johnston Kohl (far left) at the 36th anniversary gathering at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, CA, on November 18, 2014. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

“I think we lost a lot of people who would be vigilant in fighting the kind of stuff we’re seeing everyday. They were people that would take on establishment to stop the really horrific stuff we’re seeing,” she says. “So in a way it was a terrible loss. Those people would have been the soldiers of civil rights and human rights and for them not to be here – they’re much needed these days.”

But although there are not here to spread their message, Laura is using her voice and actions to spread her own message – one that has nothing to do with Jim Jones. 

“We have to understand Jim was a con artist who was able to con wonderful people. We don’t have to spend much more time realizing he was a broken piece of machinery who was somehow able to find 900 of the best people in the world to come work with him,” she says.

“I don’t want to focus on him so much – he’s dead already. I do hate him but it’s a waste of time to dwell on the hate because it doesn’t solve anything. The only thing I can do with my life is make it better and honor the people who died by remembering the great work they did and the vision they had and how they were motivated by integrity and love and trying to make the world better and I don’t want to lose track of that.” 

How the Environment Influences Yeisy Rodriguez's Art

A creative household 

Yeisy Rodriguez is probably one of the most socially conscious 20-year-olds you’ll ever meet. She’s educated on subjects such as climate change and animal cruelty and hopes to teach others about their lasting effects on the environment. But her teaching methods don’t involve lectures or waxing poetic on YouTube videos. No, her methods are much more creative. 

Blackfish by Yeisy Rodriguez is a three-color screen print that depicts an orca in a plastic bag, comparing it to goldfish given as prizes at fairs.

Blackfish by Yeisy Rodriguez is a three-color screen print that depicts an orca in a plastic bag, comparing it to goldfish given as prizes at fairs.

Yeisy was born in Miami to Cuban parents who moved to Florida in 1995 to escape Fidel Castro’s regime. Her parents had family in the U.S., which made the transition easier but they still had to adjust to speaking English and living in an unfamiliar country. 

Yeisy’s parents encouraged her love for the arts and animals. The Rodriguez family went beyond the “must love dogs” mantra as pets also included birds, cats, dogs, hamsters and bunnies. When she was seven years, Yeisy also started discovering her inner artist by attending art and painting classes. 

At 14 she began to question what she wanted to pursue as a career, but as she delved more into her art, which she says started out as a hobby, she realized that art had become her calling.

“I didn’t think I would do it as a career,” she says. “When I went to college I had to choose a major and I chose art. It was easy because I would think of all the other things I could major in and none of them felt right.” But despite the easy choice, Yeisy still had her doubts because she knew little about the art world and had no idea where to draw her inspiration. 

Also at 14, Yeisy, like most girls that age, started wearing makeup. But unlike a typical teenager, questions would later surface about how her makeup products were being made. 

“I realized some makeup was not cruelty-free about two years into wearing makeup, and it was definitely a bit overwhelming and frustrating at times,” she says. “In some cases, finding replacements for certain items that had become staples in my routine was difficult but I was determined to only support cruelty-free brands.” 

Picture-perfect prevention 

Yeisy’s epiphany spurred her to research countless beauty companies and the ways to prevent cosmetics testing on animals. But it also urged her to create art that she hoped would raise awareness and most importantly educate people on some of these issues. 

99°, 99% by Yeisy Rodriguez is a five-color screen print, depicting sea turtle populations in the warmer, northern beaches, with only one male turtle in the center, surrounded by 99 female turtles.

99°, 99% by Yeisy Rodriguez is a five-color screen print, depicting sea turtle populations in the warmer, northern beaches, with only one male turtle in the center, surrounded by 99 female turtles.

“People aren’t choosing to be ignorant – they just don’t research,” she says. “I like to make that information more accessible. Pictures and visuals are easier for people to grasp and make more of a statement.”

Yeisy also likes incorporating numbers into her work and believes that when statistical information is presented visually, it can be “really impactful.” For example, her digital piece titled And then there were two is based off an article she saw in October 2017 that detailed how, because of a “record amount of summer sea ice and an unprecedented rainy episode,” all but two chicks of a colony of about 40,000 Adélie penguins died of starvation in Antarctica. 

Another piece titled 99°, 99% also shows how rising temperatures are causing sea turtles to turn female. And while this may not seem like a big deal, scientists have started to question how the sea turtle population will sustain itself when, years from now, there’s a chance there will be no more males reaching adulthood. 

Stories such as these are a huge influence in her work, which features 2D and sculpture pieces, acrylic, water color, ink, graphite, prints, gouache and oil painting, which she says is her favorite medium to work with because she’s most “familiar” with it. 

“Climate change influences a lot of my work,” she says. “It impacts the penguins, the turtles – it’s very present.” 

According to the New York Times, scientists believe most and probably all of global warming since 1950 was caused by the human release of greenhouse gases and if emissions continue to rise, warming could exceed eight degrees Fahrenheit, which would “transform the planet and undermine its capacity to support a large human population…and precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in the Earth’s history.”

It’s a startling thought but one Yeisy hopes to bring attention to – even if it’s not overnight. “When people look at my work, I hope people learn something,” Yeisy says. “But I really hope it changes the way they do things. If at least one person can get that out of a piece I make, then I’m happy.”

An artist’s journey 

Yeisy’s art didn’t always have the same powerful message it does now. In fact, when she was entering college, she applied for the BFA program and didn’t get in because her work didn’t have an overall message. She spent the summer building her portfolio in the hopes of applying again but never did because she no longer felt like she needed the program to confirm that she was a great artist. 

“My work spoke for itself,” she says. “It’s become more specific and affective. I feel better putting more thought into it, which means the audience will put more thought into it.” 

Learning more about a particular subject has also allowed her to become more confident in her work and have a newfound appreciation for the craft. 

“I like that it’s [art] is an unique career. It’s something that people can look at and admire – like these animals,” she says. “I love the freedom of it and the ability to do what you want and have a voice.” 

Yeisy believes art’s role in society goes far beyond visual aesthetic. Artists, like any revolutionary, have a duty to speak to the world’s injustices – whether political, environmental or racial. 

“In the 20th century, a lot of Cuban artists made art about the government,” she says. “The same thing can be seen in Russia, Italy and other countries because art has always been used to spread a message and inform people.”

And while she realizes that a career as an artist may not be the most stable profession, for her, art isn’t about making money but rather making work that’s true to what she stands for. 

As for how she plans to do that, Yeisy, who graduated from Florida State University in May, wants to one day open her own art shop and have a portion of every sale go to a charity or organization that helps the environment or animals. Until then, she’s planning her next big art project (she would love to paint a mural for an organization that supports animals) and balancing working as a graphic designer and her art. 

Yeisy graduated in May from Florida State University and is balancing working as a graphic designer and her art.

Yeisy graduated in May from Florida State University and is balancing working as a graphic designer and her art.

It would seem like she has it all figured out but her assuredness didn’t come overnight. Her work comes from “finding my own way” and educating herself on the subjects that matter to her. But she wants people to know, that even if you’re not an artist or an activist, it’s okay. 

“It’s all about your actions,” she says. “If you’re in a creative field, it may be easier to express but making a difference starts with a small change in your life. You can volunteer or just encourage others to inform themselves so that they, in turn, can inform someone else. Life is chain reaction – if one person does something good, then maybe others will be inspired too.” 

For more information on Yeisy and her artwork, visit her website. You can also follow her on Instagram or Facebook.