HUMBOLDT PARK — Logan Square-based artist Raul Ortiz Bonilla has lived in Chicago for 35 years, but he has vivid memories of growing up on Puerto Rico’s southern coast — the fruit trees, the beaches and the sound of the ocean.
So last fall, when Hurricane Maria decimated the island, Bonilla was devastated. His aunts and uncles and cousins all came out unscathed, but nearly 3,000 others perished.
Bonilla’s latest art show, “2976…. after Maria to honor the dead,” honors the 2,975 people who lost their lives in the natural disaster — a figure the government only made public after Harvard researchers performed an independent study.
Bonilla’s show debuted Friday at the boat house gallery, 1301 N. Sacramento Blvd., and will stay up through the end of December. The closing reception is set for 6-9 p.m. Dec. 28.
Roughly 20 of Bonilla’s small paintings are up on display. The paintings are mostly of birds found in Puerto Rico and other cultural symbols of strength done in a pointillism style.
“I tried to incorporate all of the elements of my youth, remembering where I grew up — the waves, the landscape and the mountains,” Bonilla said.
Also part of the show is an altar Bonilla created using a blue tarp, the material covering many of the homes damaged in the hurricane.
In the altar is a collection of candles, a chandelier Bonilla made with ceramic plantains, IV bags and other objects that symbolize the disaster. Bonilla also painted every number up to 2,976 — also in a pointillism style — on the back of the tarp to honor the dead.
Bonilla said he hopes the art show will shine a light on the tragedy while also providing hope to those in Chicago and beyond who either suffered through the disaster themselves or know people who have.
“It took so long for them to get power, for them to get back to their normal lives,” Bonilla said. “Emotionally, it’s a lot. People had to leave the island for months, some of them permanently. That can affect them moving to different places.”
Bonilla has been making art in Chicago for as long as he’s lived in the city. Years ago, he made art out of a gallery in the Flat Iron building in Wicker Park. He currently works out of his home, which sits on the border of Logan Square and Humboldt Park.
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