In Conversation with Textile Artist Carolina Jimenez
By: Sarah Rich | Oct 26, 2021
Carolina Jimenez calls her woven works “monuments”—to memory, bodies, and daily life. Many of her pieces incorporate Oaxacan cotton, dyed by hand with natural pigments. “The materials draw you into a conversation about what textile is and how you value it.” We had an inspiring conversation with Carolina about her art practice, her relationship to textile, and the pieces she created for our Winter Seasonal collection.
Tell us about your background and how you came to art and design.
I am a Mexican-American artist, based in Brooklyn but born and raised in San Diego. Both of my parents are from Chiapas. I came to weaving after studying architecture. In my last year of school, I found myself taking a textiles course and that's the moment when I realized this is what I want to be doing. I worked for two years as an architect, then decided to buy a loom and begin this new chapter of my life. For me, weaving is a way to get in touch with and respond to the folk traditions that are happening in Chiapas, which I see myself separated from, identity-wise, because I didn’t grow up there. I wanted to find a way to speak to that tradition but find my own language with it.
Can you share a bit about how you think about color?
There’s a quality of color that happens with natural dyes. A lot of these works incorporate Oaxacan cotton that’s hand-dyed there. I also do natural dyeing myself, so the silk weft in these pieces for winter I’ve dyed myself with cochineal, tea, or avocado. With natural color, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get, it has a built-in way of bringing a sense of discovery to the work.
A lot of my work has to do with tiny little moments I want to monumentalize.
What is your relationship to your medium—to textile—and how it plays alongside other materials?
With weaving, you have this moment where it goes through a transition that is beyond your control. With ceramics, it’s the firing. With weaving, you take it off the loom and it’s completely changed. I sometimes use different fibers under different tensions, so you have one set of warps that’s really loose and another that’s tight, creating drapings or billowings. There are really strong limits to what you’re able to create but I think that’s the beauty of it. You’re responding to the limits of your material and your own creativity.
For me, textiles are really important because of the labor that goes into them, and the way we view textiles in general, as a society, as disposable. Most of the time, you don’t think about the clothes that you’re wearing also being woven, also having intrinsic labor. We’ve been divorced from understanding means of production. I think it’s really important for us as people to think about it. Someone had to grow your cotton or your linen or the plants that are used to dye them. There is so much labor that’s built into the material itself and that’s another reason that I have chosen textile as my medium, it’s connected to this struggle.
I would hope that when someone sees my work it gives them a moment of pause, and hopefully an understanding of that idea, and of my practice of capturing small moments and making them physical.
The names of your pieces are so evocative. Can you elaborate on your titles?
A lot of my work has to do with tiny little moments I want to monumentalize. I want to make them physical and give them space to be in people’s minds. For the new collection, I was thinking about the first days in winter where you get that light, and then the light transitioning to spring. That brought up memories of my time visiting family in Southern California and Mexico after moving to New York, and the feeling of not being able to visit recently.
One of the pieces is called Yellow Orchid in the Garden. When I was growing up, I took piano lessons with a woman named Alice and besides piano, one of her great passions was growing orchids. Her backyard was full of them, and you can grow them year-round in San Diego. I remember showing up for winter recitals and you would stand outside and listen to the other person finishing up, so there’s music in the air and you’re staring at these orchids and patiently waiting. These are pleasant moments I remember.