Kelly Jiang

Despite being a city of 8 million people, New York City is also regarded as one of the loneliest cities in the world. Home to migrants and dreamers, the city represents possibility and opportunity. Yet for many, chasing their dreams or sometimes, just fending for survival, is a lonesome journey. As commuters fill packed subway carts, strangers sit among each other, interact briefly with a simple nod or glance of acknowledgement, and never cross paths again.

When searching for a theme for my exhibit, I was struggling to capture the specific emotion that I wanted to portray through just a single word. I wanted to portray loneliness and solitude, but I also wanted to convey emotions of warmth, tenderness, and human connection. When tossing around ideas and thinking of potential ways to frame my theme, my friend suggested looking through the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. This dictionary, created by John Koenig, is a collection of made up words that are meant to describe feelings or emotions that are universal, but can not be fully captured through an existing word from the English dictionary. That’s when the word “sonder” surfaced again. I’ve encountered this word before, but I’ve never realized that it was not actually an existent word in the English dictionary. The word “sonder” is defined as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”

Any big city in this world holds unique stories of millions of individuals who feel joy, pain, frustration, loneliness, and love. In the past two years, the pandemic has both connected us and disconnected us in so many ways. For many, it has allowed us to rethink our priorities and to consider what really is important to us. It has allowed us to unite over social movements and demand a brighter future. On the other hand, it has disconnected many from their families and the many daily activities that were once taken for granted. Through this exhibit, I wanted to share small moments of human connection, where despite being individuals who are all on a rather lonely journey to navigate this world, we all share vivid experiences, feelings, and emotions that though difficult to convey in words, can be expressed through art.


View PDF in a new window.