Conversations | Managing Your Practice as an Immigrant Artist with Claudia Sohrens

Conversations | Managing Your Practice as an Immigrant Artist with Claudia Sohrens

The German artist, NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow, and IAP Mentor shared actionable steps for making the most out of your career.

We’re interviewing German artist Claudia Sohrens in honor of October’s German-American Heritage Month. Sohrens is also a researcher, archivist, producer, and circulator. Her work is featured in private collections and has been presented in numerous group and solo exhibitions nationally and internationally. She has served as a mentor in NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program for Visual & Multidisciplinary Arts since 2011.

NYFA: Based on your experience as an immigrant artist from Germany, what was the biggest challenge you faced when you first came to the U.S., and what did you do to adjust to it?

Claudia Sohrens: I came to New York as a student in 1997. During that year, I immersed myself in a one-year full-time program at the International Center of Photography (ICP) that is now called Creative Practices. I focused on taking classes and making work. I also took advantage of the creative dialogue and constructive feedback from my teachers and peers.

It was challenging to transition into the reality of living and working in New York. Although I had become part of a greater creative community and network of photographers through my studies, all my peers seemed to be competing for the same opportunities. At that time, ICP was just starting up their Digital Photography Department, and because of my background in Fashion and Communications Design, my previous professional experiences, and my OPT (Optional Practical Training) documentation, I was offered the opportunity to teach a few digital classes at the school right off the bat. Right time, right place!

My proudest accomplishment is being a mother and artist, while also being a creative educator in New York. Over the years, I’ve become part of a strong community that is passionate about using creative production as a strategy to inspire, to generate critical dialogue, and to empower communities (ICP, Pratt, NYU Tisch, Parsons, BRIC, Artists Space, NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Program, Brooklyn Arts Council, Sotheby’s Art Institute, among others).

Instalation of a white box containing multiple lighters on the left facing a picture of a room in disarray on the right.

NYFA: You’ve participated in NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program since 2011. What are some of the best strategies for creating and locating opportunities that you recommend to your mentees?

CS: Exposure is key to fully take advantage of the many opportunities out there. Here are some strategies that have been successful to me and my mentees in the past:

  • Immerse yourself in a creative environment and expose yourself to a wide range of disciplines and international developments.
  • Look for opportunities, including opportunities other artists have received throughout their careers.
  • Cultivate your creative community and professional network of peers, alumni, curators, presenters, editors, and other creative professionals.
  • Most deadlines such as residencies and fellowships are recurring. Create a calendar and exchange your research and resources with other artists.
  • Engage in a critical dialogue with the public through exhibitions and curatorial projects, scholarly research and writing, engagement in panels, lectures and conferences, as well as on social media and through community outreach.
  • Create your own opportunities to show your work through independent curatorial projects, exhibitions, and other art events also in lesser-known, alternative venues.

NYFA: What are the most important steps for you in order to organize and manage your practice?

CS: Here’s my advice:

  • Dedicate time and focus to the creative process, develop a rigorous practice!
  • Set short-term and long-term goals for individual projects and your career as an artist at large.
  • Be part of a creative community!
  • Use your creative production and research as a strategy to generate a critical dialogue inside and outside the studio.
  • Participate in exhibitions, artist residencies, and curatorial projects etc, as well as interdisciplinary and collaborative practices
  • Apply for grants and create funding opportunities that will support your creative practice.
Black and white abstract image framed by two color palettes at the top and at the botton.

NYFA: What are you currently working on? Do you have any ongoing/upcoming shows on the horizon?

CS: My academic research is concerned with the status of the photographic image as raw material for the construction of historical narratives informed by public policy with a special emphasis on the history of the photograph and race.

In my creative practice, I force my research through familiar cultural tropes and in contested accounts of the past and present to reveal our latent social desires and raise questions about the stories that are told and preserved and those that are suppressed or forgotten. My work generally unfolds through a range of media–photography, video, books, and multilayered image spaces. I am currently working on a project that focuses on the vernacular for a two-person exhibition in Hamburg, Germany in the summer of 2020.

– Interview Conducted by Alicia Ehni, Program Officer at NYFA Learning

About Claudia Sohrens
Claudia Sohrens is an artist from Germany. Her work, which has been featured in private collections and presented in numerous group and solo exhibitions nationally and internationally, expands on the notion of the artist as researcher, archivist, producer, and circulator. As an independent curator, she has worked on projects including the 2017 Pop-Up Archive at Mana Contemporary, which featured works by alumni from her “What is an Archive?” class at ICP; the Action Archive, created during her artist residency at A.I.R in 2015; Foto/Pod What is a photograph? at the 2013 Dumbo Arts Festival; and the exhibition Ulrike ist Schuld at the German Embassy in New York in 2001. Fellowships and residencies include the 2018 Vermont Studio Center residency, the 2017 ICP Artist Residency at Mana Contemporary, a 2014-15 A.I.R. Fellowship, a 2010 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship in Photography, and the AIM23 Artist Residency at the Bronx Museum in 2002. Her long-term photographic research project Mise En Abyme: Archive is fiscally sponsored by NYFA, where she has served as a mentor for NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Program since 2011. Sohrens is a teaching artist for Photography and Youth Media programs with Artists Space, BRIC Arts & Media, and Sotheby’s Art Institute. She is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Pratt Institute and faculty at the International Center for Photography.

This interview is part of the ConEdison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter #121. Subscribe to this free monthly e-mail for artist’s features, opportunities, and events. Learn more about NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program.

Images from the top: Claudia Sohrens, RV | Untitled – III, Dye-sub on Aluminum, 44 x 30 in, 2017, Courtesy of the artist; Claudia Sohrens, Diptych: Aufheben #005 Box of Lighters, Aufheben #006 Livingroom, Archival Pigment Print, 24 x 63 inch, 2009/2017, Courtesy of the artist; Claudia Sohrens, RV | 2 ¾ – I, Dye-sub on Aluminum, 30 x 44 in, 2017, Courtesy of the artist

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Amy Aronoff
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