Karen Navarro’s grandmother, a dressmaker, set the influence for Navarro to pursue the arts early on. But after studying fashion design in Buenos Aires, Navarro decided to move to the U.S. and enroll at the Houston Center for Photography. “In photography, I found a passion and a medium that allows me to create my own worlds with no restrictions, norms, or rules to follow.”
Navarro found herself wanting to experiment even more and to create work that is made with her hands. Using digital photography as a basis, she transforms traditional prints into three-dimensional, visual objects by cutting and incorporating tactile elements such as wood, paint, and resin. These labor-intensive techniques not only allow for the physical deconstruction of her images but also become a form of meditation for Navarro that reflects her efforts to reconstruct and to make sense of her own identity.
What inspires you to create?
Karen Navarro: I always hate this question because I never know how to answer it. For me, inspiration is not something that you can turn on or off. It is something that happens without warning. Sometimes I dream about ideas for new pieces, and sometimes these ideas wake me up and I have to get out of bed immediately to write them down. Inspiration comes from many sources that sometimes I don’t fully identify. Rather than waiting to be inspired, I work every day on something because I found that the more I work the more ideas I get or solutions I find for the pieces I am creating or want to create.
My work is informed by my experience of being an immigrant and the ways in which I see identity as a cultural and social construct. I’m always interested in materiality and ways to challenge our preconceived notions. Through my practice, questions of identity sometimes take a philosophical turn.
Do you think that artists are obligated to be socially and politically engaged?
Karen Navarro: I think artists must reflect the times they are living in today. For me it’s very important to create dialogues. I always aim for my work to be inviting, to seduce you, to reflect on topics. Identity, belonging and the self are topics I am always interested in exploring.
Tell us about your next big project.
Karen Navarro: Currently, I am working on a project that was inspired by the recent events of social injustices in the United States and my experience as a brown immigrant woman. For this project, I opened a call on Instagram with the idea to collect a diverse range of skin tones to create work. At this moment I am working with the skin tone images submitted by participants in the United States. I plan to use these photographs combined with language, and U.S. Census data to create abstractions and representations of the human skin color. The work will touch upon topics like the sense of belonging, migration, and collective and personal identity. Through data interpretation and personal meditations and reflections around race and power, in this work, I reclaim a space for the minorities who have long been marginalized and underrepresented.
For now, the project is thought out to be presented in a conventional exhibition space but I hope I could bring this project into the public art realm.