Kevina-Jo Smith’s new work Cloak of Hope can now be seen draped over the wall of the Civic Centre in Katoomba. Kevina-Jo Smith (KJS) and Heidi Axelsen (HA) caught up about her new work and what it means to make work in this time and place.

HA: You often work in textiles and weaving, what attracts you to that medium?

KJS: Protection is a consistent theme throughout my work and to me textile pieces are symbolic of that. I really love how accessible and versatile textiles are, and as a medium flexible to be used in so many ways and applied to so many situations. I enjoy making wearable items as much as the large scale artworks. I also work with the idea that most people understand textiles; everyone as a potential audience member to an artwork has some relation to textiles, there is a lot of nostalgia involved. Whether they simply wear clothing, or sleep under blankets for warmth, or have basic recognition of the method of weaving or knitting that they remember their Grandmother doing, or a favourite article of clothing, there is an immediate and unconscious sense of connection for me to work with.

HA: In a time of lockdown and with the upcoming renewal of Civic Place in Katoomba what does it mean to you to place your work within this context?

KJS: Within the context of the lockdown the outcome of this artwork feels hilariously passive aggressive to me. I’ve installed a giant rainbow coloured ‘cloak’ on the town square and sprinkled it with solar fairy lights (hahaha!) as if I’m trying to make everything feel a little lighter and more alive. I think we are all completely exhausted by the stagnant energy and fear, we are ready to continue living and working and loving and playing. So if this artwork / protection symbol can contribute to setting the scene and bringing people together in Civic Place during this time of renewal, then I am really grateful to be involved.

HA: COVID has brought unprecedented challenges for working parents, months of home-schooling and social isolation. A pandemic, off the back of bushfires and floods, combined with the overwhelming climate crisis lurking, this has got to be one of the most challenging and anxiety provoking times to be a parent in Australia. How have you negotiated this time as a mum and as an artist? (Sorry for the loaded question!)

KJS: Yeah….. Big question. Throw in a break up of a very long-term relationship, and yes all of those things combined have felt relentlessly apocalyptic. The constant battle to remain positively energised has been tough. I’m naturally optimistic thank goodness, because there have been very dark hard days. I have learnt so much because of all of these challenges happening in succession. A real ‘school of life’ time!

I basically coped during this time by deciding to believe in my instincts. I now truly make a conscious effort each day to put my energy into people and activities that give back to my daughter and me. I am so grateful to be currently surrounded by beautiful humans with a really genuine level of give and take.

I’m not sure when, but at some point I stopped being annoyed and hurt at the constant cancellations and postponements of exhibitions and opportunities, and I threw all of my energy into being present with my daughter and giving her the best start to life that I possibly could. We are in a good place, I actually feel really proud of her and I, is that weird?

I have received so much kindness, advice and words of support (mostly to be patient .. ‘making work will come back to you’…) from fellow artist Mamas, and a few Papa’s as well. I am so grateful for them. Because of them, I trust that it will. And it is… here I am answering questions and talking about my work again. As I feel ready to work again, opportunities present.

HA: You were involved in the launch of MTNS MADE back in 2015, what is your hope for creative industries in the Blue Mountains now and in the future?

KJS: I feel so fortunate to have been a part of the initial MTNS MADE campaign. The people involved behind the scenes really helped coax me out of my shell, to talk and write, to elevate my studio practice.

Our community is full of interesting and uniquely talented and driven people. Take a look at Justin Morrissey & Tom O’Halloran, who installed this work in Civic Place. Tom fresh back from representing Australia in Tokyo for rock climbing and Justin an artist/curator/driver of so many projects, bringing people with all kinds of skill-sets together, both huge assets.

We attract new and skilled energy all the time, primarily because of the incredibly inspiring landscape, such as Maja Baska who photographed this project. It’s been such a pleasure working with somebody who immediately gets the potential of living and working here. She has been quietly making beautiful contributions as a photographer during ‘lockdown’ and is an example of how creative people connect and strengthen our sense of community.

I hope that as a creative community we come together, support each other and contribute our collective energy to growing the possibilities of what we can achieve individually and collaboratively.

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For more about Kevina’s work go to her mtns made profile

The Cloak of Hope is part of series of artworks included in the Katoomba Civic Centre upgrades which also includes landscaping and greening, redressing of the red canopies, upgraded street furniture, and the establishment of a cowork space at the site of the old library.
It is being funded by a $750,000 grant through the Building Better Regions Fund. Council is matching this funding to a total of $1.5 million. For more information please visit the Blue Mountains City Council website.