Katelena Hernandez Cowles
is a performer, artist, and researcher whose work
explores the concept of comfort:
How we create it; why we need it;
AND how it can be disturbed;
Who profits from it, and who does not;
ANd How socioeconomics, identity, gender
and race play into these interactions.
Her body of work was originally inspired by the pairing of her experience of motherhood with her experiences as a survivor of brain injury and PTSD. Following a concussion, the artist lost the ability to sleep; her insomnia was so severe it became life-threatening. Only years of biofeedback, medication, and nutritional therapy returned her to health. During the time of her own sleeplessness, she sang extravagant nightly arrays of lullabies to her young children, sometimes continuing hours after they fell asleep. That exchange, she realized, had equally great and positive value to both creator and receiver--something keenly desired but rarely achieved by either artists or caregivers. Yet that intimate exchange was essentially economically valueless, and would be transgressive if presented outside of the domestic sphere. Her first works did exactly that and asked the audience to respond by trading something of equal value to what they had received.
That convergence of artistic expression, intellectual exploration, and social critique continues to drive her study into the nature of comfort. Informed by her education in visual and conceptual art and anthropology at Yale University, the artist's work often takes the form of interactive experiences and installations that include elements of vocal music, food, or touch, especially lullabies, hugs, sweet treats, and other maternal interventions. She has presented as a featured artist for organizations including Women & Their Work, the Blanton Museum of Art, Fusebox, Big Medium, and Box 13. Her pop-up emotional day spa, Comfort Station, was nominated for an Austin Critic’s Table award in 2015.
The artist’s current bodies of work focus on the comforting impact of love songs, love letters, and "piropos," seductive Mexican compliments; a line of padded and sugar-based comfort clothing items and accessories; and mass-deployable comfort strategies for those displaced from their homes by natural disasters, economic catastrophe, and war.
In addition, Ms. Cowles has served as the Head of Education at the Austin Museum of Art; as an independent curator and exhibition designer; on the Boards of Trustees for ArtL!es magazine, Women & Their Work (including a term as President), and The Contemporary Austin museum, as well as numerous support and selection committees for the Austin Museum of Art, Mexic-Arte, the City of Austin, and the Texas Commission on the Arts.