‘Sonder’ is Shedding Light on What It’s Like to Be a Teen in 2019

By Elizabeth Donohue

Published by Blush

March 2019


At ages 16 and 18, Emma Orland and Carolyn Hallock curated their first art exhibit, Sonder, with the intention to explore the different perspectives, emotions, and personal histories of teenage artists. The word, “sonder,” is defined as "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own." A huge success, two years later, Sonder iii debuted in mid March, the Soho space filled to the brim with neons, photography, paintings, zines, poems, multi-media pieces- and of course, 35mm film cameras and starbursts. Featuring over 70 artists, with some as young as 13-years-old, the exhibit attracted a huge number of people, and even caught the attention of i-D Magazine.

The exhibit has huge ties to The Fashion Institute of Technology. Carolyn Hallock is currently an FBM major at FIT, and the exhibit featured FIT artists, Erin Tucker, Hasibul Islam, John Groves, Kayden Strauss, Massimo Avanzato, Mavnourneen Dooley, Nicole Ruffino, and Toni Smalls.

Read my interview with Emma Orland and Carolyn Hallock, below.

It is incredibly inspirational to see two young women coming together to showcase other young talent, near and far. What was your initial inspiration for creating an art exhibition curated by, and for young artists?

Carolyn: Prior to starting Sonder, we both realized that often times young artists are not taken as seriously as those that are a bit older and further into their career.

Because of this, young people aren’t given many opportunities to be able to showcase their work in a physical gallery. While sharing your work on social media is great, it is not as impactful on the older generations. By bringing these artists work to a physical gallery we hoped to show that young artists have talent too.

Emma: As young people in the digital age, where information and content are so accessible, we have a completely different experience than those just a generation older than us. Artists are able to share their work widely both immediately and with ease through the internet and we can consume it in the same way. This has led to an influx of work out there, new voices and new platforms being introduced that would have never been recognized a few years prior. Because of the massive shift in technology, however, those outside of our generation don’t always get it.

We want to bridge the gap between the internet and the material world, and give an opportunity to young people whose art and experiences aren’t always noticed. These people are working as hard, or harder, are equally as talented- or more so- than those  in the art world who have more experience, or are simply older than us. We strive to provide a physical platform for teenage creatives to encourage and share their artistry that could help their work be seen by those who may not otherwise seek out the art of young, undiscovered names.


How have you chosen the artists to be exhibited in Sonder?

C: To choose the artists in Sonder, we have submissions open for a few months prior to the exhibit. From there, we go through each submission and make a decision. Submissions are open to young artists internationally.

E: To select the art we exhibit, we use social media to put out a call for artists. From there, we go through the submissions and decide based on message and aesthetics what we feel would best fit together and align with our mission. Most of the time, we have entries from people who we do not personally know but have come across our exhibition series online, furthering the idea that the internet is a powerful tool that houses some incredibly talented people who just want their art to be seen.


This is your third time exhibiting Sonder- congratulations! There was a huge turnout- people of all ages showed up. What is the process of putting together a show like this like?

C: We go through submissions, and choose all of the art that we want to showcase. After that we find a gallery space for Sonder to take place in. There are a lot of things that go into it. After we have the basic necessities all sorted out, we need to promote the event. Social media is our main form of promotion, mainly Instagram.

E: After we collect and sift through submissions, we seek out a space to host it and then work on creating a full experience for the duration of the exhibit. It’s a process that requires a lot of attention to small details, but after curating three exhibits, it has definitely gotten easier since we’ve learned what to look for and what needs to be improved upon.


What have you noticed about the current state of the art world that you think is lacking, or should be changed to create a more inclusive, diverse platform?

C: In the art world, progress has definitely been made, but still the main group of artists that gain recognition is older artists. Young artists aren’t taken as seriously and aren’t given as much credibility as older artists.

E: In the 80’s and 90’s, the Guerilla Girls were notoriously painting cities with signs revealing the prevalent sexism and racism in the art world. Today, in addition to a lack of representation for young artists, there’s still such a heavy emphasis on a niche group of artists – white, middle class/upper class, and male – in the mainstream that has yet to budge. With art being a manifestation of experience and knowledge, I think it’s so important to try and incite change by giving a platform to those who are not being represented or regarded in order to truly begin to be inclusive because as of now, so many groups of people are left in the dark, while the same narratives are just being shared in varied ways.


What are your hopes for the future of Sonder?

C: In the future we are definitely planning on continuing the exhibits. Hopefully we will be able to reach a larger audience, and possibly expand to more cities. We want to continue giving young artists the opportunity to show their work in a physical sense.

E: In the future, we hope to create more opportunities for young artists to share their work by providing them a platform to do so. We also would like to curate exhibits in other cities to expand our reach to continue to share the works of even more young artists with even more people.


Follow Sonder on Instagram, and check out their website.