Strips of colour intersect. Cubes shift and tesselate. Faces are obscured, spliced and transformed. These are works by Argentinian-born, Houston-based Karen Navarro, an artist working across photography, collage and sculpture. Her constructions take portraiture into three dimensions – pushing the boundaries of traditional image-making to create something unconventional. In doing so, she investigates the intersections of identity, self-representation, race, gender and belonging.
These multimedia images are deeply rooted in the artist’s personal history. “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,” she explains. Using digital photography as a foundation, Navarro remodels traditional prints into 3D structures by cutting and incorporating tactile elements such as wood, paint and resin. “The labour-intensive techniques I apply to create these sculptural objects not only allow for a physical deconstruction of my images,” she says. “They also become a form of meditation that reflects my efforts in trying to reconstruct and make sense of my own identity.” The results are visually and conceptually compelling.
The series brings a plurality of identities into focus, reinstating the fact that one photograph can never really tell the whole story. “Each individual’s face is often depicted hidden, dissected, or blurry,” the artist notes. “These interventions reference elements from cubism and surrealism, genres in which I find an unexpected kind of magic and strange beauty.” By combining these art historical ideas with concepts of colour theory and minimalism, Navarro crafts something new. Calming pastel tones invites the viewer into complex worlds. Once inside, we are left to make sense of the image: to finish the puzzle.
In 2019, Navarro received the Houston Artadia fellowship. Since then, she has been shortlisted for the 2020 Photo London Emerging Photographer of the Year Award and the Lensculture Art Photography Award 2021. Her work has been exhibited in the US and abroad, and has been featured in numerous publications, including ARTnews, The Guardian, Observer, Rolling Stone Italia, and Photo Vogue Festival Italia.
All images courtesy Karen Navarro.
1. Fragment, 2019, from The Constructed Self
2. Puzzled, 2020, from The Constructed Self
3. Untitled (rearranged), 2021, from The Constructed Self
4. Twisted ll, 2020, from The Constructed Self
5. Subject #1 variation 1, 2020, from El Pertenecer en Tiempos Modernos (Belonging in Modern Times)
6. Subject #5, 2019, from El Pertenecer en Tiempos Modernos (Belonging in Modern Times)