Katelena Hernandez Cowles

I am 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.

My body of work was originally inspired by the pairing of my experience of motherhood with my experiences as a survivor of brain injury and PTSD. Following a concussion, I lost the ability to sleep; the insomnia was so severe it became life-threatening. Only years of biofeedback, medication, and nutritional therapy returned me to health. During the time of my own sleeplessness, I sang extravagant nightly arrays of lullabies to my young children, sometimes continuing hours after they fell asleep. I realized that exchange had equally great and positive value to both creator and receiver–something keenly desired but rarely achieved by either artists or caregivers. Yet that highly gendered, intimate exchange was essentially economically valueless, and would be transgressive if presented outside of the domestic sphere. My first works did exactly that and asked the audience to respond by trading something of equal value to what they had received.

The convergence of artistic expression, intellectual exploration, and social critique continues to drive my study into the nature of comfort. Informed by studies in visual and conceptual art, anthropology, and voice,my 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. I have presented as a featured artist for organizations including Women & Their Work, the Blanton Museum of Art, Fusebox, Big Medium, and Box 13. A pop-up emotional day spa, Comfort Station, was nominated for an Austin Critic’s Table award in 2015.

My current bodies of work focus on the comforting impact of love songs, love letters, pet names, celebrity selfies, and piropos, seductive Latino compliments; the environmental and economic impact of travel for emotional care; and a line of protective wearable items so unwieldy in their attempt to repel discomfort they create new discomforts of their own.

In addition, I have 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, and The Contemporary Austin, 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.

Sample Work