Katrina Coombs: Lifting the veil
Apocalypse, Lifting of the Veil by Coombs

THROUGH her determination and ingenious thinking, Katrina Coombs has broken the glass ceiling in textile and fibre art.

With her work on display at the National Gallery of Jamaica’s exhibition, Kingston Biennial 2022: Pressure, Coombs, who says her practice is “an exploration of the maternal structure”, has created her own world through which she shares the voices of women who have endured child loss.

She recently expressed to All Woman that because men have been raised to be more vocal, it sometimes creates barriers for women seeking to make a name for themselves, especially in careers that are unpopular.

Fibre art encompasses the use of threads to create images and wasn’t a popular practice in Jamaica, according to Coombs, who is proud that she rubs shoulders with men who create traditional artwork, such as painting and sculpting.

“It has been a struggle to really get your own voice heard as a woman, but it has been more of a struggle with the type of materials I use in my practice to be seen. I kinda had a double whammy because I am a woman, but also because I am working with textiles. In Jamaica textiles and fibre wasn’t a medium that you would put in the gallery. When I created my pieces, it was ignored. Because of my education and practice of being a curator, I said, ‘Okay, you are not going to share the table with me, I am going to create my own table.’

“It wasn’t even just the men who were doing it, but the women who are in positions and able to give you these opportunities are also not giving you it because they have already been trained in such a manner that they don’t see it as significant. As a woman in this field and using the techniques I am, I wasn’t a part of the conversation and they would not invite me as part of the conversation. I decided to curate my own exhibition and through those exhibitions what I did was be strategic.”

Katrina Coombs

She added: “Rather than doing solos, I did group shows. I invited the painters, the men, the sculptors alongside me in the exhibitions I am curating and from there what it did was pull different audiences and allowed the conversation to grow on what textiles can be and how it can be viewed as a fine art. For me, that relationship.

She encouraged women with artistic minds to engage in fields in which they have a high level of interest in order to realise their maximum potential.

“You have to be able to tap into something to be able to grow and give it your all. When you dive into something that doesn’t really interest you, you find that the work struggles a bit. For me, the work is personal, but I do it in a way that is very subtle but very straightforward. I put my experiences as a woman coming up trying to find myself, my own identity in society, in the home and for myself into my work.” and forms that can be so strong. It creates new identity. Textile fibre is something that shapes you. From you come out of the womb you are in clothes.”

She said at Meadowbrook High School she was introduced to the art and basically fell in love with making knots and building fabric, shapes, and functional objects.

“Moving along from there I went to study at Edna Manley College. Doing my first degree in textiles and fibre arts, I was introduced to weaving and the depths of what weaving can do. For me, the fascination with the medium is how I can create a perfect picture using threads like a painter or I can create work that is three dimensional, similar to a sculpture or even jewellery. I can jump into any area of art by just using this simple material of threads and fibre.”

Coombs’ art piece, as only one of several aspects, highlights the voices of 50 women who, like her, have lost a child. She delves into the psychological struggle to break from the reality that the being, the child, is no longer there, and how taboo the conversation is amongst partners, which quite often leads to turmoil in the has been my struggle, and this is how I have addressed it to the point now where I am invited. I have created my own table, but I also have a seat at their table and they have seen the significance of the medium I chose to use. Now they are also observing and identifying other female textile artists and inviting them as well to their shows.”

Living on a hill in St Andrew, far from the hustle and bustle in town centres, generates a lot of inspiration for Coombs to create. But inspiring her work to a greater extent is her propensity to nurture.

“My entire career as an art practitioner is really about nurturing whatever it is I put my hands to. Living in the hills contributes a lot to my creativity. My mom is a horticulturalist, and I have just been in nature engaging colours, shapes, forms, and textures. That has affected my practice, in terms of how I view material, material culture, colour shapes, and forms. I always liked creating things from a young age, perhaps from even within the womb, in terms of my interest with fibre and thread. It is a simple material that is overlooked but yet it creates new structures and forms that can be so strong. It creates new identity. Textile fibre is something that shapes you. From you come out of the womb you are in clothes.”

She said at Meadowbrook High School she was introduced to the art and basically fell in love with making knots and building fabric, shapes, and functional objects.

“Moving along from there I went to study at Edna Manley College. Doing my first degree in textiles and fibre arts, I was introduced to weaving and the depths of what weaving can do. For me, the fascination with the medium is how I can create a perfect picture using threads like a painter or I can create work that is three dimensional, similar to a sculpture or even jewellery. I can jump into any area of art by just using this simple material of threads and fibre.”

Coombs’ art piece, as only one of several aspects, highlights the voices of 50 women who, like her, have lost a child. She delves into the psychological struggle to break from the reality that the being, the child, is no longer there, and how taboo the conversation is amongst partners, which quite often leads to turmoil in the relationship.

She encouraged women with artistic minds to engage in fields in which they have a high level of interest in order to realise their maximum potential.

“You have to be able to tap into something to be able to grow and give it your all. When you dive into something that doesn’t really interest you, you find that the work struggles a bit. For me, the work is personal, but I do it in a way that is very subtle but very straightforward. I put my experiences as a woman coming up trying to find myself, my own identity in society, in the home and for myself into my work.”

JASON CROSS

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