31 January 2023

Monuments to Memory

Carolina Jimenez delves into her
cultural heritage through textiles


by Megan V.

Since prehistoric times, textiles have played a vital role in society. Their multifaceted uses for clothing, commerce, furnishings, and symbolic communication have helped sustain the medium’s significance. Textiles are entrenched in cultures and histories across various locales through their production, materials, and motifs, thus providing opportunities for community-making and documentation of narratives. 

Despite the omnipresence of textiles in daily life, in both functional and symbolic forms, their significance is often overlooked, and their classification as an artistic medium has been consistently diminished. Brooklyn, New York-based artist Carolina Jimenez employs textiles not only to preserve memories of the past and capture moments of the present, but to connect with her cultural heritage.  

Jimenez’s “woven paintings,” as she refers to her works, are thoughtful meditations on the boundaries between weaving and painting. From afar, her pieces appear to be color-field abstractions composed of paint strokes, full of movement, evoking feelings similar to viewing a Helen Frankenthaler or Mark Rothko painting. Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that Jimenez’s pieces are composed of countless yarns held in tension with a complete absence of paint. Influenced by her background in architecture, the artist meticulously employs the elements of color, form, and scale to produce expansive woven works, or what she describes as “monuments” to memory, bodies, daily life, and ancestry. 

Earlier installations of Jimenez’s oeuvre often capture small, fleeting moments of her day-to-day life. Creating artworks that reflect on burnt toast, orchids in a garden, a sunrise in Joshua Tree, conversations with her papi about trees—or the moment a woman came up to her in Sunset Park and told Jimenez in Spanish which mangoes to get—allows the artist to appreciate the impermanence of life. Although the stories behind these particular works aren’t directly related to her cultural heritage, the materials Jimenez utilizes ensure that her artistic practice is inherently linked to Mexico, the country from which both of her parents originate. 

Frequently working with Oaxacan cotton, Jimenez hand-dyes her yarns with pigments from tea, avocado, pomegranates, and other natural materials. Believing that color is the most indispensable tool because it can conjure deep emotion for the viewer, she may be drawn to the specific shades she deploys due to their connection to place. For instance, Jimenez uses pigments derived from cochineal, an insect native to the Americas, in numerous pieces such as Huipil de Magnolia (2023).

Cochineals have been used since the pre-colonial area in Central America to make various shades of red, pink, and purple pigments. Harvested from “infected” cacti, people would use the dye produced by crushing the bug for paintings, textiles, clothing, and more. Following the arrival of the Spanish to the region, the carmine hues began being exported to Europe due to the extraordinary vibrancy of the colors, which spurred admiration among aristocrats, monarchs, and artists. The fact that these colors were the only ones with such vibrancy added to their demand. 

The wealth derived from the color’s popularity helped build cities like Oaxaca. Despite the increasing accessibility of synthetic dyes since the 1900s, artists, designers, and architects—such as Frida Kahlo, Luis Barragán, Rufino Tamayo, Carla Fernández, and Moisés Hernández—have continued to use the authentic color in their work. 

Beyond materials, several of Jimenez’s newer installations more explicitly explore the customs of her parents’ native Mexico. The silhouettes of Huipil del Atardecer (2023) and Huipil de Magnolia (2023) are inspired by a traditional blouse, the huipil, worn by indigenous women from Central and Southern Mexico. The shape repeated in the two artworks resembles the blouse cut in half from the bottom up, as if only the shoulder seams remain intact. While crafting these works, Jimenez contemplated how this piece of clothing could hold value for the Mexican diaspora.

While the significance behind the shape might not be evident to someone from a culture that differs from the artist’s, the work builds an emotional connection. Though Jimenez’s artwork is not meant to be touched or held, her artistic practice demonstrates the possibility of weaving being accepted beyond being “just a craft”—which isn’t necessarily negative— in which it becomes something emotionally immersive and experiential. By implementing meaningful materials and symbolic forms, Jimenez creates artworks that serve as a remembrance of place, culture, and memories. 

Jimenez is currently completing a fellowship at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City. Find more on the artist’s website and Instagram.

All images © Carolina Jimenez, courtesy of the artist

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