For her first solo show at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, American/British photographer Karen Knorr presents a specially curated selection of images that explore ideas of migration and multiculturalism. This exhibition brings together several of the artist’s most powerful series, including the acclaimed body of work India Song.
Known for sumptuous imagery of exotic animals digitally fused into opulent architectural settings, Knorr’s work is as multifaceted and culturally diverse as the artist herself. Born in Frankfurt and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Knorr finished her education in Paris before settling in London, where she currently resides.
Throughout her career, Knorr has used video and photography as a method of critical inquest, employing opulent palaces, temples, museums and monuments of Asia and Western Europe to frame issues of power and class structure rooted in cultural heritage. Rather than focus on the dispossessed, Knorr aims her lens at the privileged class, the comparatively few who are in charge.
Early series, such as Belgravia (1979 – 1981) and Gentlemen (1981 – 1983), shot in black and white with captions using irony and humor, captured the aspirational lifestyles and aristocratic values of the British elite. Using color, Connoisseurs (1986) and Academies (1995 – 2005) playfully challenge perceived notions of beauty, canon and taste in British high culture with staged scenes photographed in and around historical buildings and fine art academies of England.
While Knorr’s work has consistently examined the meaning of place, drawing from ancient myths and allegories to express contemporary ideas, a life changing journey to India in 2008 altered the focus of her practice, shifting her gaze to the upper caste culture of the Rajput in India to examine its relationship to the “other”.
The experience resulted in her seminal photographic series India Song (2008 – 2017), a near decade-long body of work that focuses on the interiors of sacred and secular spaces of Rajasthan. Knorr revels in the rich visual culture of northern India and the layered, syncretic nature of the architecture, where motifs from Hindu to Islamic merge and migrate from room to room. Within these lavish spaces—symbolic of wealth and societal power structures—Knorr digitally imposes images of live tigers, elephants, peacocks and monkeys, which she photographs separately in reserves and zoos.
Lush and playful, these vibrantly colorful images appear to be photographic renderings of Indian folklore, in which the line between reality and illusion is blurred. Yet Knorr’s work, which is influenced by surrealism and the magical realism of Latin America, delves below the surface to consider issues of colonialism, exoticism, appropriation, societal hierarchies, and femininity as it relates to the animal world. This critically acclaimed series is the subject of a large-format monograph with a preface by British writer William Dalrymple, released by Italian fine-art publisher Skira Editore in 2014.
Knorr will also be showing photographs from Metamorphoses (2014 – 2018), a series set among the breathtaking villas and palaces of Italy. Knorr draws from the epic poem Metamorphoses by Ovid to explore ideas of legacy and heritage in modern-day Europe. In these works, pagan and Christian allegories intersect, expressing the tension and uncertainty stemming from contemporary international migrations that may change the face of old Europe forever—which for some, presents a cultural precipice.
Additionally, on view will be images from The Lanesborough (2015), a series shot in what used to be a hospital but is now one of the most expensive hotels in the world. Here, Knorr wryly parodies the notion of living well in the most exclusive and aspirational locale in London.
“In photography storytellers have a fundamental role,” says Knorr. “They exist in order to explain our world and our place within it, encouraging us to develop as individuals, to discover meaning, and to teach future generations. They also create argument, discussion and debate about how to live the good life.”
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Born in Frankfurt in 1954 and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Karen Knorr has exhibited her work extensively including at Tate Britain; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; San Diego Museum of Photography, California; Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow; Kyoto Modern Museum of Art, Japan; Seoul Museum of Art, Korea; and the Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai. Her work is in prestigious collections such as Tate London, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the United Kingdom Government Art Collection, England; Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Centre Georges Pompidou, France; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Folkwang Museum, Essen, Germany; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; and the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan, among others.
Knorr was awarded the Photography Pilar Citoler Prize in 2010 and she was nominated for the Deutsche Börse in both 2011 and 2012. She also received nominations for the Prix Pictet in 2012 and 2018. As an advocate for women in photography, she was made an Honorary Fellow at the Royal Photographic Society in 2018, as well as Honorary Chair of Women in Photography.
Knorr is an activist as well as an artist, advocating for transnationality, equality and diversity in the art world. She is a Professor of Photography at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, Surrey, United Kingdom.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1954 | Lives and works in London