self-love and other attempts by karen campos castillo
HEART-BEATS.CA began talking about clothing and fashion in 2013 as a way to also discuss bodies seldom represented in popular culture and online communities; bodies that are fat, bodies that are brown and bodies that are queer—bodies like my own. #flawlessyeg is heartbeats IRL—showcasing our bodies, hoping to find true love in the next selfie.
Exhibition runs from August 22 to September 5
Opening Reception on August 22 at 7 pm until 10 pm
Q&A with the artist
Chelsea Boos: Where were you born?
Karen Campos Castillo: I was born in El Salvador, the land of the pupusa. My family came to Canada when I was 8. Edmonton feels most like my hometown, although both places have influenced me in every way.
CB: Describe how you were you raised. What was your experience of Edmonton?
KCC: I grew up in a house full of tough working femmes; my three sisters, mom and me sharing tiny apartments all over the north side of Edmonton. At first, not knowing English was alienating with the kids at school but once I learned, I also realized that there were a lot of differences between me and my peers. There weren’t a lot of immigrants at the time, I stood out and hated it. I spent a lot of time riding my bike or drawing by myself when I wasn’t watching my little sister while my mom worked a ton.
CB: What influenced your decision to move to Toronto?
KCC: Honestly, a huge part was depression. I needed to reset my brain. I wasn’t sure about what I was doing for a living and I just happened to be laid off at the same time so it all just sort of came together.
CB: Could you briefly introduce your work?
KCC: I’m not focused on any one thing but I think everything I do tries to reconcile being an immigrant living between cultures. I grew to hate the things that made me different from the kids at school and spent most of my youth trying to assimilate into Canadian culture and reject aspects of my Salvadorean heritage. Now I try to undo that damage and acknowledge the complexity.
CB: Your blog, Heartbeats, upon first glance appears to be a street fashion blog. What makes it different than mainstream sartorial photography sites?
KCC: I think Heartbeats uses fashion as an entry point to talk about race, size and sexuality; how those things affect what we wear but also the unique ways we, as people of colour, live our lives. It’s also deeply personal. I’m still trying to find that tenderness for myself and this project is part of that process.
CB: You self-identify as a fat woman of colour. How has embracing your identity influenced your approach to your art and this project in particular?
KCC: Heartbeats wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t admit to myself that I am fat, if I didn’t start saying those words aloud and start seeing the word as a descriptor, rather than an insult. In doing so, I was able to look at things more critically and notice the lack of representation of people that look like me in popular culture and even online, where one imagines you can find everything for everyone. It wouldn’t feel honest to not make myself a focus when the goal is self love.
CB: Do you see your approach to photography and fashion as subversive? empowering? inspiring?
KCC: The message that we get is that bodies of colour have little to no value. You get a sense of this from Gaza, to Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner in the US, and all the missing First Nations women in Canada. Our endurance may make our existence subversive because we live in a world actively erasing us or ignoring us. I just want to take the privilege and power I have to project our faces and our stories in the hopes of making my teenage self proud.
CB: I see your photographs as challenging normative cultural values, including what beauty and desire look like. How does your work deal with the politics of queer bodies and sexuality?
KCC: I’m trying to add to a conversation. I remember joining Tumblr some years back and being super excited about a place on the internet that had a queer community being cute and sexy, but then I realized a lot of these images were white skinny people. It was frustrating because online communities can contribute so much to people’s lives; especially to marginalized communities and those in isolation. These spaces can make you feel safe and understood when the outside world doesn’t. I wanted to create content that would appeal to me, content that wouldn’t make me hate myself for not being white or skinny.
CB: You say that the decision to start your blog was partially inspired by turning 30 years old and being no closer to loving yourself and your body. Do you think age has a role in people accepting themselves?
KCC: Yes but only with a pretty good support system. I’m super lucky to have a family that supports their weirdo. Also, the Edmonton arts community gave me a lot of room to play, to fail and figure my stuff out.
CB: Part of your practice when you lived in Edmonton was about building community through events. Do you see this project as an extension of this? What elements of your social practice are in this project?
KCC: I was born into a warm and loving community and I think part of me will always try to recreate that. My approach with events and now has been to make space for myself and hope that others recognize what I’m trying to do and join in. Artists like Marjane Satrapi showed me that my story and my ideas were worth sharing with the world—that’s the beauty of representation, it not only lets you know you’re not alone, it also empowers you to create, to be, to do and so on.
CB: How has the project evolved over the past year? What are some of the most important or unexpected things you've taken away from the project?
KCC: It’s been great to meet new people to feature and discuss experiences we all share as immigrants or as children of immigrants, despite being from vastly different regions of the world. I get to take pictures of people and make them feel so special; I love all of that. And I have certainly become more comfortable with my body and what I wear and being in front of the camera. I think the most unexpected thing has been to face the fact that no matter how much love and acceptance you can gain for yourself, it doesn’t mean that the world will follow. I think we like to make people responsible for feeling/being undesirable or unloved. We say things like “you’re not fat” or “people like confidence, be confident” because we don’t want to accept that bias exists for our friends or that we are also biased. It’s an ongoing experiment with good days and bad days.
Find out more about Karen here.