Karen Knorr (Germany 1954 -)


Through her photography and videos, German-born American artist Karen Knorr explores the dynamics of power and its influence on cultural heritage, from the patriarchal structures of the English aristocracy to the roles and representations of animals in art.

Born in Frankfurt in 1954 and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Knorr studied in Paris and London before settling in England in the 1970s, where she began producing images inspired by the cultural debates of the time, which often centered on the politics of representation.

Knorr is best known for her seminal photographic series, India Song, which began with an extensive road trip across India in 2008 (followed by multiple return trips), resulting in a body of work that focused on the interiors of significant architectural spaces of Rajasthan, a northern Indian state known for its opulent palaces, temples and forts. Within these lavish rooms— symbolic of wealth and societal power structures—Knorr digitally imposes images of live tigers, elephants, peacocks and monkeys, which she photographed 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 mystical 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—concepts that are as layered and multifaceted as the country itself. 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.

Karen Knorr has exhibited her work across the globe at venues such as the Museum of London, United Kingdom; 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. Knorr is a Professor of Photography at the University for the Creative Arts since 2010. 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.