We had the good fortune of connecting with Kristen Owens and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Kristen, why did you pursue a creative career?
Initially, my pursuit of a creative career was because it was the only thing I felt I was good at. My mother is one of the first in my family to go to college so there was no question about whether I would go or not. I had no idea what it was that I really wanted to do, but almost all of my extracurriculars involved dance or fashion so when it came down to choose a concentration fashion seemed much more achievable. Initially I thought I might be a fashion journalist or a stylist. My third year in I discovered that there was a path as a curator or fashion archivist and I became obsessed with the idea of cultural preservation. Fast forward past a couple years of intern and freelance work within the fashion/costume industry, I took a leap of faith and quit my costume p.a. gig within the TV industry to pursue a dual masters (!) in library science and visual culture: costume studies in hopes of possibly becoming a collections manager, archivist or curator. THIS is where the work I do now became my purpose. In every course I was being inundated with images centering the history of white European fashion, dress, and photographic history. I made it my mission to use my research, writing, archival and curatorial skills to celebrate the lineage and creativity of Black American artists and designers. I also work in arts education, curating public programs and organizing art workshops and tours for a variety of groups. I work in a space that serves a population that is predominantly Black and Latinx and that is also very important to me; that the folx who come in see me and that I find a way a way to help them see themselves reflected back to them in the work. I see the work I do as creative and I also view it as my activism.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
At the time of my response to this question I am working FT in arts education, curating public programs and organizing art workshops and gallery tours and working independently as a writer and exhibition curator. There were many paths that led me to where I am and each stage has had its highs and lows. Other than the birth of my son (the ultimate creative endeavor, I think) there are two recent projects that I am super proud of: my work as co-juror/curator of the 2021 NJ Arts Annual at The Newark Museum of Art and my chapter contribution to a new book titled Black Designers in American Fashion.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m a foodie and I LOVE the outdoors. I’d easily take them to one of my favorite desserts spots in Montclair NJ: Sweet Kitchen for pastries, Red Cafe for cappuccino or Benvenuti for gelato. If we’re around my way in the Ironbound section of Newark we’d have to get some Portuguese bbq from Elm Street Barbecue or swing by Sihana Cafe. For a small hike we’d go to South Mountain Reservation or enjoy the soothing sound of the sea at Liberty Park.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Firstly, I’d thank to my mother, Virginia Owens, for supporting my journey. I feel incredibly blessed to have grown up being constantly encouraged to pursue my passion, whatever that might have looked like at any given moment.

I’d also like to thank Professor Deb Willis, PhD, University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Her dedication to writing and curating around the history of African American photography provided me with the resources and validation I needed to create this path for myself. Her course on imaging the Black body changed me in such a profound way. When I didn’t know whether to focus on writing, archiving or curating she encouraged me to do it all and she continues to be someone I look up to.

Website: https://www.kristenowens.com/

Instagram: Kristenjoyx

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/kristen-j-owens

Image Credits
Fashion, Anxiety, Society and Fashion and Justice Photo Credit: Alessandro Cerdas, aka “Fresco”

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