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 where it wasn’t cool to say you were from Oakland. Now, there is such a wide range of people with cultural diverse interest that Oakland has changed to the extent that they say they are Bay Area Native, or more specifically, from Oakland.
Q#2: When did you start on the creative path you are currently on? Karen: I have been in at out of the art world for about 7 years, but consistently, I would say my artwork has been shown in gallery and museum spaces for about 5 years. I have been very fortunate. I also understand that there are those before that did the work necessary for me not to struggle getting my work out there 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. In reflection, I realized then I was using myself as a canvas to express my desire to create, but I did not know it at the time. That was because I had a faulty notion about what was an artist… one who paints figurative on canvas or sculpts figurative out of clay, marble, etc.
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. I am also 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: Well, ever-single space has a hidden meaning. Whoever enters into that space can be dictated to by that meaning, or the individual can change the meaning of that space. Also, I appreciate you giving me an opportunity to reveal myself to the community.