Humans of Harker: Storytelling through art

Karina Chen explores human interaction through artwork and film


Michelle Wei

“Humans are complicated. You’re going to have very good friends, but the exact feeling for each friendship is going to feel different. It’s very interesting how the individual bonding element between humans can shape public lives,” Karina Chen (’23) said.

Dressed in a teal hanfu adorned with pink blossoms, Karina Chen (’23) raises her Chinese flute, its long bamboo body resting in her hands. With delicate grace, her fingers dance over the holes, ready to create melodies. The audience grows quiet, and the ethereal opening notes of the flute begin to whisper their enchanting tale.

Karina has been playing the Chinese flute since third grade. As the years have progressed, she has learned unique advanced techniques with the instrument. Despite the Chinese flute being a lesser known instrument that is harder to incorporate into an orchestra, she enjoys the cultural connection that playing the instrument brings.

“It’s just something I enjoyed doing,” Karina said. “I really like its sound and how there’s like that bit of personal connection with my culture. When people say classical music, they think of symphonies and operas. But there’s also Chinese classical music, and if I didn’t play the Chinese flute, I probably would know how it sounds like, but I would not probably recognize it as an individual genre.”

In addition to the Chinese flute, Chinese history fascinates Karina. Not only is she fond of the aesthetics of historical clothing and artwork, she enjoys learning about the complex family dynasties that ruled China for thousands of years.

Close friend Jessica Zhou (’23), who met Karina during advisory in ninth grade, noted Karina’s passion for Chinese history and culture. She enjoys conversing with Karina about Chinese culture.

“As someone Chinese myself and who has lived in Hong Kong, where it’s a lot more international in comparison, it’s really nice to talk about [Chinese culture]” Jessica said. “For example, when Karina is choosing which hanfu to buy and stuff like that, explaining the culture behind it, it’s really fun to watch her geek out about something she’s truly interested about.

Karina also expresses her creativity into other mediums such as her artwork. Intrigued by issues such as teenage mental health, she often seeks to address these topics through her artwork. Drawing inspiration from daily life, she often designs original characters (OC’s) in her artwork, striving to convey emotion.

“I have a few OC’s, original characters that I draw. A lot of times, I try to put down sentiments and emotions using the visual medium. Sometimes I’ll just suddenly feel a vibe. A lot of times, it’s just random ideas. It’s a lot of  inspiration from daily life. Most of them are from imagination.”

Karina enjoys experimenting with usage of color in her illustrations, often using black, white, and neon colors to create emphasis in her drawings. Rather than striving to portray her characters as realistically as possible, she often simplifies them in order to make the message stand out more.

“I like to use a lot of really weird colors,” Karina said. “It’s basically black, white and a bunch of neon colors. The big theme, the thing that’s special about my work is the really weird colors and the really simplified figures. The idea is that the more simplified a representation of a human is in a drawing, the easier it is for a person to associate themselves with that figure. Amplification through simplification, right?”

Karina uses her art as a medium to convey emotion. The complexities of human interaction particularly intrigue her, and she strives to capture this through her artwork.

“Humans are complicated,” Karina said. “You’re going to have very good friends, but the exact feeling for each friendship is going to feel different. It’s very interesting how the individual bonding element between humans can shape public lives. My drawings and films tend to highlight the importance of that personal bond.”

In the future, Karina hopes to pursue film, which combines her love of history and storytelling with her passion for art. Upper school art teacher Pilar Aguero-Esparza, who taught Karina in AP Studio Art and Honors Directed Portfolio, noted how her art evolved toward giving her characters storylines.

“An aspect of her work that I feel is incredibly strong is her sense of storytelling,” Aguero-Esparza said. “It’s very much a part of her aspirations of becoming a filmmaker. It was fun to see that she had a character, the character is going through a series of self discovery. Within the materials she’s working with, within the imagery, she started to do this from beginning to end.”

Anika Pandey (’23) first met Karina at a summer program in seventh grade and became closer to her after the two both joined Harker in ninth grade. Anika admires Karina’s excitement and passion toward film, which she has observed through their discussions on various films they have watched. 

“She’s a very bubbly sort of excited and passionate person,” Anika said. “When she likes something, she puts her all into it. It really shows throughout the things that she does. She’s very interested in film. That’s what she wants to major in. She’s been creating these short films and doing film analysis. She tells us all about it, and she’ll go into depth, explaining it. You can see the way that her eyes light up, and then you can see that she’s really excited about film.”

As she looks into the future, Karina hopes to use film as a medium to make an impact. Just as she uses her art to convey emotion and tell a story, film also has the capacity to convey a message and inspire others.

“As I grew older, I realized how films, even though a lot of the time they are fictional stories, they can have a real impact on the world,” Karina said. “The thing about this medium is a lot of people are going to see it. Even if you’re not a huge director, if you make a good film, people are going to see it. If I were to try to insert a message into a film, it can motivate change.”