Q#1: Are you a Bay Area Native? and if not, how long have you lived in the Bay? Karen: Yes, I was born and raised in Oakland. I was raised in Oakland during a time when it wasn’t cool to say you were from Oakland. Now, there is such a wide range of people with different interests for Oakland that the once thriving African and African American Community that shaped identity has now an exodus of over 30,000 people who have left for Oakland because they can no longer afford to live in Oakland. This lost is not just people but the culture associated with that lost.
Q#2: When did you start on the creative path you are currently on? Karen: Consistently, I would say my artwork has been shown in gallery and museum spaces for about 5 years. I have been very fortunate. I understand that there are those before me that did the work necessary for me not to struggle getting my work in the world.
I have not always known that I was an artist. It was my husband, Malik Seneferu, a well-established artist and one who has put in the work, who first told me I was an artist by the way I decorated my space. Prior to meeting Malik, people would ask if I was an artist because of the way I dressed, but it was Malik who declared I was an artist and has been my most important teacher in guiding my direction both in my art and the business of art.
Q#3: Where do you find your inspiration? Karen: Initially, my inspiration comes from ancient and ancestral forms. I then incorporate found and recycled objects that I get at local reused stores to advance the imagery in some way. Additionally, it can be from music, reading, and images I see around me. However, I am most interested in ways the African presence in the world becomes dualistic, paradoxical, and truncated. I focus on how the male and female presence appears static and yet fluid, how the global society shapes African identity, and then how that identity informs the world.
Q#4: What was the first piece of vinyl you ever purchased? Karen: Ah, I remember this like today, lol. It was Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, you know the one with the big, red lips on it. I bought it at Eastmont Mall when the Mall had a record store; I go way back in Oakland. I was 12 years old, and brought her album home, and stared at the album cover, it felt like, for hours. Yes, the artistry during that period in music was creative, but for me, a 12-year girl who was constantly teased because boys viciously said my lips were too big, that cover was transformational. It was the first time I understood I was beautiful because of my lips, and not freakish, or ugly. Of course, like most young girls who were listening to Chaka Khan, I would dance in the living, trying desperately, to imitate Chaka Khan’s dance moves while mimicking her lyrics. It is funny stuff when I look back on it.
Q#5: Anything else you’d like to share? a joke/quote? Karen: Yes. I teach in the community colleges and at CSU, Eastbay, and this is the way I open my classes because I believe in transgressing. The quote I created is “Space dictates meaning. What enters that space is dictated to by the meaning of the space or can change the meaning of the space.” Also, Malia, I appreciate you giving me an opportunity to reveal myself to the community.