“Sonder” is an internet word.
The noun isn’t up Merriam-Webster’s sleeves, but Urban Dictionary says it’s “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.” A sonder occurs when empathy suddenly takes a Louisville Slugger to both headlights and overwhelms you.
This sensation is at the bottom of Ramiro Silva’s “Mundane,” the artist’s second solo show since immigrating to Chicago from Santiago, Chile, over four years ago. Opening Saturday at Positive Space Studios, the exhibition is a way for Silva, 31, to reconnect to the world after a year of battling depression.
“It’s all based on people I see on the bus on my way to work. You have this routine of getting up early, getting in the bath, going to work every day,” Silva said in a phone interview. “At some point, you see the same people on the same bus at the same time. I was having a really weird year and going through several issues and troubles. Then, I just sort of wondered, ‘I see this person daily — do they have of the same struggles?’ When I see them, they’re sitting on their phones, but I don’t see if they get to work and like it or not, or if they go back home and face big issues.”
These routine encounters, mired in the mundane, inspired him to imagine and create what lies beyond a “first layer of a person.” There is a quiet social exchange threaded throughout the process, as he used painting to wrestle his mental health.
“I’ve been struggling with depression, being far from home, the whole social and political times we’re living in,” Silva said. “This stuff gets to you when you’re far away and don’t have anyone around. I am here with my wife and my kid, but at the same time, it’s just a few of us in a place where we don’t know anyone. It’s been really lonely, and I’ve been trying to solve my life and get out out of this crazy depression period I’ve been experiencing.”
Silva isn’t alone in these feelings. According to the American Psychological Association, the mental health field has been slow to examine the specific chemistry of immigration and mental health.
“There is no evidence in the literature that immigrants are any more likely to experience mental illness or psychological distress than non-immigrants, taking into account who does and does not seek treatment,” the organization writes.
In turn, the APA observes that when immigrants do experience mental health difficulties, it is often due to obstacles specific to the immigration experience. The APA notes that xenophobia often prevents acculturation on a macro-scale, which inhibits folks from trusting and using mental health resources.
On an individual level, the abstract portraits became a way for Silva to reconnect with the world, with rigid geometry standing in for the tedium of schedules and effervescent colors expressing the uniqueness of each individual. Silva’s background in graphic advertising is apparent in the work’s exactness and mechanical qualities.
“A person sitting is a cube, but that person and that cube have a story,” he said. “If you see my work, it’s going to show a cube, but it’s also going to be the back story of that person. The work has been a way for me to see my own issues in other people.”
He calls the creation therapeutic, as the work becomes “a weird interpretation for me and my issues, my own person.”
Silvo is interested in deceptive aesthetics, and this show has enabled him to consider how his own appearances don’t necessarily reflect the churning of his internal wheels.
“I’m a person who always dresses in black — I am super dark — but all of my work is pink and teal and super bright colors,” he said. “I think that’s another way of showing that internal feeling, to express that what’s inside of you isn’t the same as what’s within.”
Though the artist initiated his practice with mixed media, he’s been gradually drawn toward traditional painting with acrylics exclusively.
“It’s trying to be positive, and it’s also me trying to reconnect with myself, as I try to ‘heal.’ The whole show is definitely me trying to transform my negative, just putting whatever I’m thinking into a piece of canvas.”
“Mundane” opens Saturday and runs through Sept. 23 at Positive Space Studios, 3520 W. Fullerton Ave.; www.positivespacestudios.com