Karen: A Self Portrait

Art Contributor Karen Birnie is a final year Medical student at KCL. She is the former President of KCL Sexpression and has a particular interest in how we can better deliver sex and relationship education to young people.

Translator Isa Betoret García is a second year War Studies and History student who is particularly interested in how feminism affects every day life and believes that open conversation and compassion are the best ways to change the world.

KB Submission 1


I don’t normally paint or draw myself. It’s an experience I find quite uncomfortable, preferring to represent what I see around me instead. Life is already somewhat of an acting exercise: trying to be your strongest and most impenetrable self in the midst of it all (especially as a medic, where so much of your time is handling expectations). I hate making myself open and vulnerable to other people, for fear that it could be interpreted as weakness.

In this piece, I tried to channel some of that raw honesty, drawing inspiration from religious iconography. To be naked is to be our most exposed and susceptible (not forgetting that our bodies are so often objectified and repurposed). That said, the rest doesn’t give much away, leaving a lot of room for interpretation – even for myself.  



No suelo crear dibujos o pinturas de mí misma. Es una experiencia que me hace sentir incómoda, prefiero recrear lo que veo a mi alrededor. La vida de por sí ya nos empuja a ejercer el rol de actores: debemos actuar como la versión más fuerte e impenetrable de nosotros mismos (especialmente como médica, ya que una gran parte de nuestro tiempo consiste en lidiar con expectativas). Odio abrirme y mostrar vulnerabilidad ante otros, por miedo a que se llegue a interpretar como debilidad.


En esta obra he intentado canalizar esa cruda honestidad, inspirada en iconografía religiosa. El estar desnudo es estar en nuestro estado más expuesto y susceptible (dada la frecuencia con la que nuestros cuerpos son tratados como objetos o reutilizados para otros propósitos). Dicho esto, lo demás no revela mucho, dejando amplio espacio a interpretación – inclusive para mí misma.



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