Woman becomes ‘living’ art exhibit

Sally Fox sitting in the Out ofSight/Out of Mind installation at Summerhall. Picture: Jane Barlow
Sally Fox sitting in the Out ofSight/Out of Mind installation at Summerhall. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A WOMAN has become a “living exhibit” in a bid to challenge the stigma surrounding ­mental health issues.

Crowds have been flocking to Summerhall to see Sally Fox, 52, as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. It has proven so popular the hours Sally spends sitting in her specially created “cell” have had to be extended.

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, she invites visitors to ask about her experiences and to share their own. The Leith-based performer and former housing officer has a sign around her neck saying she has personality disorder and thinks it is fitting that she is staging the piece in an area which used to hold animals in the building’s past life.

She explained: “It’s an opportunity to meet a real person who has a couple of diagnosis that people might have heard about but don’t know what they mean. People can forget there is a real person with a whole set of symptoms. It started with an idea for me to sit with a label around my neck to challenge stigma a bit, then it developed from there. I thought a few people might have said ‘hi’ but I’ve been shocked with how it’s gone.

“It’s been about making a connection with people and compassion. It’s been very much a shared experience. I’ve been listening to some really intimate stories and sharing some of my own. It’s been a bit odd but a great experience.”

Sally first experienced mental health issues in her teens, but her parents refused to allow her to be treated. After experiencing depression, she was diagnosed as bipolar in 2003. The medication she was put on caused her to balloon in weight by six-and-a-half stone and she suffered two heart attacks, while the mum-of-three was forced to quit her job.

She received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder in 2010, and credits turning her life around to receiving dialectical behaviour therapy in Falkirk – a treatment that Sally says is not available in the Capital.

Homely touches in her cage include photos of her sons, a stool for visitors to sit on, a painting on the wall and sunflowers.

One person who visited Sally during the exhibition’s preview on Friday described her as “warm, engaging, and insightful” and said the exhibit was “challenging labels and impressions in a direct and engaging way in a comfortable space created in an uncomfortable one”.

The Out of Sight/Out of Mind exhibition also includes sculpture, painting and narrative and runs daily until October 19, between 11am and 6pm. Sally is there every day, except Thursdays, between 11am and 3pm.

The festival is one of the largest social justice events in the world.