Stacked, spinning, and puzzled together, Karen Navarro’s vibrant portraits explore myriad facets of identity. Photography provides the foundation for the Houston-based artist’s practice, which often encompasses sculpture, text, and collage to examine ideas around self-representation, gender, race, and a sense of belonging. In two of her recent series, The Constructed Self and Neither Here Nor There, Navarro slices bold portraits into cubes or strips, then rearranges the pieces into shape-shifting patterns.
Born in Argentina, Navarro later immigrated to the United States, and in 2014, she discovered that she could trace her ancestry to the Mapuche culture. “I have always been interested in identity, but this piece of information shook my past understanding of who I was,” she says. The Constructed Self developed from an interest in the simultaneously personal and universal human experience of building and exuding a persona. She is also interested in how one’s perspective can alter what one sees.
Through fragmenting, layering, and reassembling, Navarro splices images with bright edges that draw attention to negative space, uneven surfaces, and intersections. She captures digital portraits of her sitters in front of solid backgrounds, emphasizing their direct gazes and garments. While she focuses on others, she sees the work as self-reflective and driven by “the need to celebrate diversity to reframe the representation of historically marginalized identities.”
Neither Here Nor There centers on first, second, and third-generation immigrants and reconfigures the images to visualize the endless process of forming one’s identity. “I’m attracted to the contradiction of creating work that is made out of a photograph but ceases to be one when I separate it into pieces and add other materials like wood, paint, and resin,” she says. “It’s no longer a photograph, but it doesn’t become a sculpture either…The hybridity of the final artwork conceptually embodies how I feel, that I don’t belong here or there.”
Navarro recently traveled to Argentina to photograph people reconnecting with their Indigenous heritage, and she plans to return to present an exhibition of the final works. To help fund the project, she will launch a series of prints on Indigenous Peoples Day (October 9). “The work is about reconnecting with my Indigenous identity and celebrating its beauty,” she tells Colossal. “For me, reconnecting with that part of my identity is a profound act of resilience, resistance, and reclamation.”
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