Pictura Gallery

Karen Navarro

The Constructed Self

Dates + Events

Gallery Walk Opening Reception | Karen Navarro

Friday, November 5 | 5:00pm - 8:00pm

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Pictura is pleased to present the work of Karen Navarro November 5, 2021 through January 29, 2022. Navarro’s work explores the intersections of identity, self-representation, race, gender, and belonging through unconventional portraiture. Her multimedia practice transforms digital prints into three-dimensional objects by cutting and incorporating tactile elements such as wood, paint, resin and embossing.

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. Through unconventional portraiture and still life imagery, my multimedia practice investigates the intersections of identity, self-representation, race, gender, and belonging. Using digital photography as a foundation, I transform traditional prints into three-dimensional, visual objects by cutting and incorporating tactile elements such as wood, paint, and resin. The labor-intensive techniques I apply to create these sculptural objects not only allow for a physical deconstruction of my images but also become a form of meditation that reflects my efforts in trying to reconstruct and make sense of my own identity. At once colorful and minimal, my constructed portraits are meant to invite viewers in while touching base on sensitive issues. Diversity and equality are very important considerations throughout my work, which features a diverse range of subjects portrayed in similar manners. To refer to my subjects’ constructed identities and their multiple layers, each individual’s face is often depicted hidden, dissected, or blurry. These interventions reference elements from cubism and surrealism, genres in which I find an unexpected kind of magic and strange beauty. Through my practice, questions of identity sometimes take a philosophical turn.

Karen Navarro is an Argentine-born multidisciplinary artist currently living and working in Houston. Navarro works on a diverse array of mediums that includes photography, collage, and sculpture. Her image-based work and multimedia practice investigates the intersections of identity, self-representation, race, gender, and belonging. Navarro has a background in fashion design and completed the certificate program in photography at the Houston Center for Photography. Her constructed portraits are known for pushing the boundaries of traditional photography, the use of color theory, surreal scenes, and minimalist details. In 2019 she received the Houston Artadia fellowship and most recently she has been shortlisted for the 2020 Photo London Emerging Photographer of the Year Award and is one of the Top Ten Lensculture Critics’ Choice 2021 award. Her work has been exhibited in the US and abroad.

Selected shows include Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH), USA; Galerija Upuluh, Zagreb, Croatia; Holocaust Museum Houston, USA; Artpace, San Antonio, USA; Melkweg Expo, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Houston Center for Photography, Houston, USA; and Museo de la Reconquista, Tigre, Argentina. Navarro’s work has been featured in numerous publications, including ARTnews, The Guardian, Observer, Rolling Stone Italia, and Photo Vogue Festival Italia.

Her studio is located at Sabine Street Studios and is open to visit by appointment.


Glossy and glowing, the pieces in The Constructed Self pulse with color, as powerfully attractive as nectar to a bee. But viewers are unable to quickly consume the imaged person; subjects are segmented and viewed in parts, like forms in the vision of an insect.

Karen Navarro breaks her portraits into tiles, which can be built and rearranged into different iterations of the person every time the work is exhibited. The tiles could be thought of as pixels, or cells. They are the building blocks of a greater whole, predetermined by a malleable but singular configuration. Navarro disrupts the automatic fast read of a portrait, often hiding the face of her subjects and dispersing clues about each person throughout the frame. Her beautiful constructions convey that each self has many overlapping parts, and that people present different sides of their identities in different circumstances.

The second body of work on display, El Pertenecer en Tiempos Modernos (Belonging in Modern Times) deals with self-representation as it relates to social media. Strangers answer a digital call to sit for portraits in Navarro’s studio. She then scrambles their image by laser cutting the piece into smaller geometric shapes. The portraits, composed of shuffled strips, show a distorted self or a partial, arranged identity like those constructed for social media.

Navarro draws out the complex, contradictory nature of self representation via social media. It can feel empowering to shape the way that others experience and perceive our image. But so too can it spiral downward, as we pick ourselves apart or fixate on undesirable details. Or at times, our identity can be whirled away from our control by others, and distorted, like a tweet taken out of context. This tension over control is expressed visually in Navarro’s sliced photographs as she shuffles and rearranges the figures.

The physicality of Navarro’s pieces plays an important role in our experience of her subjects. In Twisted, the show’s most sculptural piece, the figure radiates into three-dimensional space. The photograph takes on an uncanny sense of presence in the room as the portrait is fanned onto several planes. By engaging in a three-dimensional process, rather than staying within a single plane, Navarro activates another level of perception.

- Mia Dalglish + Lisa Woodward

Exhibition Archives