Cara Foster Karim interview as told to Tori Weston
Please tell us about your background and how you came to Somerville.
I was born in Boston but grew up mostly in Mozambique, Africa, where my parents worked. I went to college in the US and then moved to Boston after graduation and moved to Somerville shortly after--I've been here since 2008.
At what age did your creative journey begin?
Art has always been a part of my life. As a kid I colored and drew constantly and made comic strips about imaginary family and friends. I took a lot of studio art classes in college, primarily oil painting and sculpture, so most of my formal art education comes from then. But I didn't really start trying to pursue art seriously until 2017. At that point, I was 31 years old; I was job hunting, but as a parent of young kids finding a job with the flexibility I needed seemed impossible, and I decided to take a leap and start my own art business instead.
Who or what inspires your work?
So many things! Artists who inspire me are El Anatsui, for his use of recycled objects to create amazing, transformative pieces and textures without losing sight of the individual components, and Edward Hopper, for the gorgeous light and slice of life with architectural details; paying attention to the ordinary.
But my main inspiration comes from two non art sources. First, as someone who grew up overseas and has friends and family from all over the world, I am always aware of the cultural complexity and layers of belonging in any space. For the first several years that I lived in Somerville, I worked in a neighborhood with many immigrant and refugee families, and I continue to volunteer and maintain relationships there. That community has permanently shaped how I see the world--so many people with vastly different languages, values, and traditions, all a part of the same neighborhood--it's such a powerful and beautiful thing.
Second, my professional background is in urban planning and affordable housing, so the urban built environment--sidewalks, storefronts, windows, parks--makes a fascinating, richly layered focus for my art.
I bring these inspirations together by creating collages of urban landscapes, mostly in Somerville, using cut up newspaper pieces in different languages, to kind of symbolize all the different communities that make our city what it is.
What led you to work specifically in collage?
My background is in oil painting, and collaging requires using acrylics, so I was pretty reluctant at first. But I had for a while been wanting to figure out how to get text, especially text in different languages, into my landscapes. And I realized I wanted to use found materials, scraps of paper or free newspapers given out at stores or the libraries, rather than writing or painting my own text. It feels really important to me to be incorporating tangible pieces of existing material culture, even if that's just the classified ads section in the local Brazilian newspaper, into my work, as kind of a slice of life or time capsule of something real. Once I realized that, collage was my only option! Collaging is a very different process than painting but with a lot of trial and error I am making progress at learning how to paint with tiny pieces of paper.
I love your Storefront Series, what inspired it?
Thank you! I am having so much fun with this series. For me, this series is the perfect way to call attention to the ordinary but beautiful and quirky things that make our community so vibrant and diverse. It's a celebration of the ordinary places we pass every day on the way to the bus stop or the grocery store and don't think twice about...but are actually really important. These store fronts are our environment, our world. Every small business represents years of labor and love from someone. Every brick on the sidewalk has been stepped on by so many different people living so many different stories. I don't take that for granted.
How does one find your work?
I participate in Somerville Open Studios every May at my studio at Vernon Street Studios. For updates on current works in progress, information about other upcoming shows, or to contact me about purchasing a piece, Instagram is usually your best bet: https://www.instagram.com/cara_paints