Sonder: Connecting Subjective and Collective Existence
Sonder, an exhibition debuting at The Urban Arts Gallery, demonstrates how one’s subjective existence is always intertwined with a collective. We exist simultaneously as ourselves and with each other. Sonder demonstrates our mutual connectedness by immersing visitors in a mosaic of local artists’ self-portraits. “Sonder is the realization that everyone around us is living a life as complex as our own,” says Essie Shaw, the curator of Sonder. We concurrently perform the leading role in our own lives and assume innumerable supporting roles in others’.
Shaw connected with local artists to co-create an exhibit that displays their portraits in the forms of paintings, glass art, photographs and mixed-media artworks. “As more artists signed on to the show, I felt a sense of closeness to them knowing that we were all working on a shared exhibit.” Sonder features self-portraits created by Melissa “Rino” Alvarez, Jodi McRaney Rusho, Laura Sharp Wilson, Alyana DeSouza, Caroline Kane, Alice Lopez, Cecilia Izarraraz, Halley Bruno, Cat Palmer, Nataly Welch, Emma Goldgar, Pedro Hueramo Rico, Raynola Dominguez and Grace Ryser.
“I encouraged each of the artists to create portraits and other artwork that represent how they see themselves,” Shaw says. “Each piece is deeply personal to them.” Sonder’s collection of portraits embodies the collective vibrancy and complexity of our personal lives. “This collection of art shines a light on the challenges that we face as individuals and the perspective that our lived experiences have given us,” she says. By engrossing visitors in a collection of local artists’ self-understandings and images, Sonder emphasizes the interconnections between our subjective and collective existence.
“’If there is one thing we can all agree on, the last two years have brought about an abundance of uncertainty and fear for the future,’ [Shaw] says.”
Shaw says that the past two years have been extremely isolating because what it means to live has rapidly changed. Sonder compels us to understand that everyone is floundering along their own storyline and urges us to connect in the face of violently alienating systems, institutions and circumstances. “If there is one thing we can all agree on, the last two years have brought about an abundance of uncertainty and fear for the future,” she says. “We are disillusioned with the ‘system,’ and we’ve lost what little faith we had in our elected officials.”
Global crises and chaos make it easier to recluse into our own lives to avoid spiraling into the void. But it is precisely these times that call for collective action, discourse and allyship. “I hope the environment and mood of the show will encourage conversation and sharing,” Shaw says. From meticulous paintings to vibrant mixed-media sculptures, each artist’s self-portrait reflects their own unique essence and begets their own mood, medium and narrative. As a collection, Sonder’s portraits epitomize the diversity of our experiences, identities and self-understandings. In this way, Sonder cultivates an environment for multicultural and intersectional dialogue about the self and collective being.
In encouraging an awareness of the vivacity and complexity of others’ lives, Sonder helps us live with and for each other instead of living merely among each other. “My hope is that the realization that we are both the main character in our own stories, while also playing supporting roles in others’ stories, can help us find a greater sense of togetherness,” Shaw says. Amid injustices and corruption, Sonder encourages empathy, connection and coalition.
“By engrossing visitors in a collection of local artists’ self-understandings and images, Sonder emphasizes the interconnections between our subjective and collective existence.”
“The Urban Arts Gallery staff has been wonderful to work with,” she says, “I am curating another show for the Gallery that will be showing in February 2022 titled The Beat of Our Blood and features the work of Black, Indigenous and POC local artists.” The Urban Arts Gallery will exhibit Sonder from Jan. 4–30, with an artist’s reception and gallery stroll on Friday, Jan. 21 from 6–9 p.m. “The gallery and the Utah Arts Alliance have given me a lot of freedom to bring my visions of both of these shows to life,” Shaw says.