Camille Claudel © Corina Karstenberg

Camille Claudel
Excuse the dust on my blouse. I sculpt my marble myself

Hidden History © Corina Karstenberg

My name is Sarah – Young Kenian girl.

Lupita Nyong'o © Corina Karstenberg

Lupita Nyong’o
Woman Warrior


Interview: L.G. – Corina Karstenberg

Corina Karstenberg – 12 September 2022 Windhoek – Interview L.G. Art Student Windhoek

Opening Questions:

  1. What is your name and surname?
    Corina Karstenberg
  1. Where are you from?
    Maastricht, The Netherlands

In-depth Questions:

  1. What made you choose this career path?
    I am a cultural historian with a background in the restoration of objects. My work as a restorer at the African Museum in Tervuren (Brussels) has influenced my life enormously. In 1991 I started to work in this museum when I was just 23 years old. At that age I knew almost nothing about history due to my practical background as a cabinetmaker, upholsterer and restorer of wood. By doing research on the ethnographic objects that I worked with I discovered the cruelty of the colonization of Congo by King Leopold II of Belgium. I became morally conflicted by this knowledge and was convinced I would have blood on my hands if I continued this work. Therefore, I decided to quit my job at the museum. After this experience, I wanted to understand what happened to the people who were colonized and how this could have happened. I started with a bachelor in Religion Studies at the Radboud University followed by a Master in the History of Europe as a colonizer worldwide. In 1999/2000 I wrote my master thesis at the University of Swansea in Wales with a focus on the development of gender categories with a special interest in the new category Transgenderism. During my studies, I started to make portraits that often are related to history and injustice. My first portrait I made 27 years ago, of a woman murdered by the Khmer Rouge. I gave it the telling title: Potential Refugee, as she had not the chance to flee her country.
  1. Who are your biggest artistic influencers?
    Pablo Picasso
    On a young age (13 years) at secondary school our teacher of drawing shared paintings of Picasso and asked us to choose one of them and copy this. I still can remember I draw an abstract colorful face. Very surreal with the colors purple, pink and blue, I loved it. Another quality of Picasso is that he can make with one line a strong expression. My drawing of the Kenyan girl I made some years ago made me think of this. During the years I started to make abstract or surreal portraits, that made me think of Picasso. To be honest I don’t know how to call this type of work. I always think that’s something to figure out for art historians. I just make art. It just happens when I am creating. It is not that I think on forehand I want to make a surreal painting or portrait. Sometimes I am surprised by myself.
    Amadeo Modigliani
    Many years ago I was visiting my friend Alice for a week in Paris with whom I studied in Swansea (Wales). When she was working I just wandered around with no plan. Then I saw a long queue waiting for something. It reminded me when I just started at the Art Academy in Brussels to study restoration of wood and polychromy. I didn’t know a lot about art. When we went to visit an exhibition of Gauguin at that time in Paris (1989), there was a long queue waiting to see the exhibition. For me it was the first time I visited Paris and I thought immediately: “Oh no, I am not going to spend my time waiting in a queue!” So I went on my own wandering around in Paris. That moment in Paris, so many years later, seeing this queue made me think of the queue waiting for Gauguin’s exhibition. So this time I thought: “Let’s join the queue I have the time on my side and money in my pocket.” It happened to be an exhibition of Amedeo Modigliani. I liked his portraits and was surprised how small they were. Some people compare my work with the portraits of Modigliani. So I guess he has influenced me a lot.
    Kazimir Malevich
    During my study in Brussels we went regular to visit exhibitions in museums in different countries. One day we went to an exhibition in Dusseldorf in Germany where I saw the famous painting Black Square of Kazimir Malevich. But what I really liked from him are his paintings of the farmers working on the field, colorful and abstract work. I love it, every time again I can enjoy this work. I made some drawings with charcoal that reminds me of this work but I don’t know where they are. I am sure one day I will do something seriously with this style.
  1. Tell me about your favorite medium?
    I love to work with pastel. It is easy to use and I love the structure. The broad scale of colors gives me the chance to play with techniques and try new approaches. Another important reason is that it is easy to carry with me when I travel. Now in Namibia I have also pastel with me and some paper to draw on.
  1. What is the goal/ purpose of your work?
    The portraits that I make are influenced by the places people are born and the impact of artificial elements of our planet. Diversity is key in my art. The portraits are not only about their personal circumstances of life but also about the place where they are born but, and how traces of the past become visible in their lives and influence their choices. I see my art as a friendly way to share stories about human kind in a colorful way. Stories that sometimes can be painful but are necessary to be told. My hope is that many people pass my work whether this be in a gallery or on twitter or Instagram. The title says a lot about what you can expect and for the ones who are really interested they can read about the hidden histories that I express by symbolism on my website where I am still working on.
  1. How do you manage your work life balance as an artist?
    It is difficult and a struggle for a lot of years. All these years I had many jobs to pay my materials and organizing exhibitions or taking part, next to paying my rent and other obligations everybody has to deal with. Therefore, it took sometimes years before I finish paintings just because I hadn’t the time or the energy for it and was distracted by the struggle of daily life. I still have paintings that I have started years ago that I need to finish. I know they are good and I know I will finish them as I have experienced this before.
    I never had an atelier I always painted in my studio where I lived in and recently, since two years, in the living room of my apartment with a separate bedroom. So now I don’t need to sleep in the smell of oil paint anymore. Sometimes I had nice work but often terrible ones. I find it difficult to fit in with groups and be social even I can be very open to people, but I need my time to be alone. In certain types of organizations, I can’t work because I am too critical about their approach which gives a lot of stress.
    All this has limited my time I can spent on making art. Till now I was never financial supported by a foundation. With a little bit of luck this could possible change soon. As my work was recently discovered by the Art Hup Itsliquid in Venice, Italy. I have participated at three exhibitions in Venice at Palazo Bembo. Now my work is for a year in a gallery in Rome and next year I will participate at an exhibition in Florence. When I asked the Modriaan Foundation (a famous and large foundation in The Netherlands for artists) for financial support they advised me to write an application because they thought after hearing my story I could receive a bourse for several years. If they accept this application, I can work for two or three years only on art starting next year in 2023.
  1. What is your preferred time of day to work on your art?
    I prefer to work during the day, with day light.
  1. Where do you find inspiration?
    My main source of inspiration is Twitter. For me, it is a huge library of thoughts and opinions from, and about, the past and the present. I follow writers, artists, average people, thinkers, doers, scientists, women, men, LGBTI, people with a broad range of political ideas, as well as libraries and journalists.
  1. How do you think art is important to society?
    Art is a way that can influence society in a positive way. It can be critical on what is going on in a society and make people aware of this. The artist looks with a different eye. It can make people think about things they maybe never thought of before.
    Without politics it can be a joy to watch and give people a good feeling because of the quality of work, the colors, forms and impressions. It is a nice way of relaxing in free time to visit a gallery or a museum and forget your daily trouble.
  1. How do you view/ handle constructive criticism towards you work?
    I always listen to what people have to say about my work whomever they are. Whether they are a serious art criticaster, or artist itself, an art lover or the average passenger who often says they have no clue about art but they like it or not. I listen and think about it, but at the end I will always follow my own vision and do it the way I want.
  1. Has your art style changed overtime?
    My art has developed itself during the years. It has a typical style people start to recognize and since a few years a surreal style has appeared.

Closing Question:

  1. Lastly, what advice do you have for an upcoming artist/ guide to a successful art career?
    One of my first paintings I made when I was in my early twenties was thrown away by the father of a friend, she could paint very well. We made it nearby her parents’ house in nature with lots of green and a small stream. I remember I went crazy by all the colors green and I knew it was bad. But after some months I was curious about how bad it was, just to see it again and learn from it. Than my friend told me her father had thrown away. I was really disappointed. Back then I never had expected I would have developed myself in the way I did and that my art would be in Brussels, London, Venice, Rome and Florence. I continued doing it because I liked it, without thinking about selling or have the chance to show it at galleries and (hopefully) one day in museums.So my advice to you is: Keep on dreaming. Keep on creating. Even your work can be sometimes very bad. Don’t give up. Most important is that you like what you are doing.Keep on practicing and you will find your way. People will have opinions about your work. Listen to it, think of it and go your own way. I think being successful is especially in staying close to what you want and not thinking of public or galleries. Use social media to present your work to the public, make your own website (I started with the free version of WordPress) follow other artist and be inspired by daily life.Here is a link to my old website. When you scroll back to the beginning you can see how I have developed myself Good Luck and Lots of Inspiration.
    Corina Karstenberg
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