Mitsuko Brooks: Letters Mingle Souls

March 11 - June 11, 2023

CONTENT WARNING: The works of art in this exhibition address mental illness and suicide.

Artist and archivist Mitsuko Brooks creates two-dimensional mixed-media collages and sculptures made of found objects. Many of the concepts and issues she addresses revolve around mental health and our connections to others, as demonstrated by her mail-art practice. Much of her art utilizes found-image collage and painted text to provide personal perspectives on the human condition and on the radiating impacts that those struggling with mental health have on the people in their lives.

Letters Mingle Souls marks Brooks’ first solo museum exhibition. Seemingly delicately constructed ribbon installations suggest keepsakes that carry memories of home. Both Brooks’ installation and its title were inspired by nineteenth-century American artist John F. Peto’s series of trompe l’oeil paintings depicting stationary holders, which Brooks discovered in a 1974 postage stamp series titled “Letters Mingle Souls.” One of the paintings featured in the stamp series, Old Scraps (Old Letter Rack), was especially important to Brooks, as it inspired the new way in which she chose to display her mail art pieces in this exhibition.

Brooks’ works and ribbon installations simultaneously evoke the linen photo boards one might find in a teenager’s bedroom and the architecturally constructed linework of Minimalist painting. Brooks’ exhibition is a terminal or the crossroads by which her select mail-art works carry messages from suicide-loss survivors to those lost to suicide. 

In the United States, increasing resources and media attention have begun to raise awareness and remove the stigma around mental illness and suicide. While the country’s suicide rate is down from its peak of 48,344 in 2018, the number of suicides recently increased from 45,979 in 2020 to 47,646 in 2021.¹

Because of increased information speed and access, what was once a private narrative has become increasingly public. Through mass media, we learn about those lost to suicide, sometimes in real time—former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, actress and director Regina King’s son Ian Alexander Jr., actor-comedian Robin Williams, dancer and DJ Stephen “tWitch” Boss, and countless others. We all seek connection and validation, and hearing of the loss of a celebrity to suicide is thought to have a negative impact on those considering suicide. In fall 2022, a CDC study showed that celebrity suicide appeared to increase the number of suicides by 8–18%.²

It is still difficult to unpack and understand the motivations that can lead to suicide. However, those most at risk are Black, Indigenous, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals and those with financial and cultural barriers to mental health resources. In 2022, the Trevor Project released its National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. The survey found that, in the past year, 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide, nearly one in five transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide, and LGBTQ youth of color reported higher rates of suicidal ideation than their white peers.³

While more studies, information, and resources aim to understand the motivation of a suicide victim, we are still left with the reality of the loss of the individual. Brooks’ work recognizes that absence through the thoughts and messages of suicide-loss survivors—her collaborators—who seek to reach those they have lost. 

For over 12 years, Brooks has developed a studio practice that speaks to the history of mail art, a movement centered on sending small-scale works through the postal service. However, Brooks’ approach expands mail art into the realm of social practice. 

Brooks’ work provides a meditative and spiritual passage for messages written by suicide-loss survivors to reach their loved ones and, in effect, other survivors, while broadening the perspectives and dialogues around the narrative of suicide. Brooks collaborates with survivors and shares their words and sentiments through text and collage compositions that nearly fall off the edges of reclaimed boards, postcards, and book covers that the viewer is encouraged to handle. By sending mail-art pieces back to the deceased, Brooks emphasizes correspondence that moves beyond conventional forms of communication and into the spiritual realm. Her work emphasizes the words by English poet John Donne that inspired the titles of both the aforementioned stamp series and this exhibition: “letters mingle souls / For thus, friends absent speak.”

— David Rios Ferreira, curator

¹ “Suicide Increases in 2021 After Two Years of Decline,” National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 30, 2022, accessed February 9, 2023.
² “Suicide Prevention Resource for Action: A Compilation of the Best Available Evidence,” National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022, accessed February 9, 2023.
³ “2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health,” The Trevor Project, accessed February 9, 2023.



I have had a lifelong focus on finding meaning in life and reason to live. In this exhibit, I decided to address the perspectives of suicide-loss survivors and to honor the lives of those who couldn’t see through the pain of living. Perhaps if I could hear the messages of suicide-loss survivors written to their lost loved ones, I could grapple with my intrusive thoughts and find deeper meaning in my current attachments and acceptance of living.

In this project, I asked suicide-loss survivors a question: 

What lingering thoughts, emotions, and feelings do you wish you could share with your loved one who is no longer here?

In the biopsychosocial-spiritual model of clinical psychology, a therapist considers four factors involved in a patient’s healing: their biological, physical body state; their psychological framework; their position in society (socio-economic status, race, culture, identity, etc.); and the spirit they inhabit. I reference the spiritual in my new mail art, which represents imaginary letters addressed by suicide-loss survivors to the deceased, in hopes of bringing peace to the survivors and of connecting with the other realm.

— Mitsuko Brooks



March 11, Saturday, 11 a.m. — Celebration of Spring Exhibits
April 29, Saturday, 2 p.m. — Mail Art Workshop: Remembrance Postcards


This exhibit is located in the Ticket Gallery, which is on a raised platform off of the main gallery. To access the Ticket Gallery, guests would need to go up five shallow steps. 


Virtual tour
Installation views
Suicide Prevention Resource for Action
Ask the Artist!