Contemporary Textile Artist Sarah Zapata

The Fuzzy World of Textile Artist Sarah Zapata

Textile artist Sarah Zapata explores themes such as sexuality, femininity and masculinity using textiles as the medium. Her work pushes the boundaries of textiles as an expressive art. Her artworks include knitting, carpet weaving and other traditional fiber arts carried out in a non-traditional way to bring forth her emotional message.

Sarah Zapata Artist Nazmiyal

Sarah Zapata with one of her fuzzy masterpieces.

Life and Works of Artist Sarah Zapata

Sarah Zapata is a Peruvian American artist born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1988. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of North Texas in 2011. Her specialty was in fiber arts. Since that time, she has dedicated her talents to creating pieces made from common materials, such as yarn, fabrics, paper, and other everyday objects.

Today, she makes Brooklyn, New York City her home. Zapata lives next door to her studio and often puts in long hours working on her creations. She usually works in the studio, even when it is so cold that her cassette tapes freeze and stop working (Sarah only has a space heater).

Zapata’s list of exhibitions is long and continues to grow as more people connect with the messages in her artwork. Sarah has exhibited at the Deli Gallery in New York, El Museo del Barrio the Museum of Arts and Design, LAXArt, Wave Hill, Sunset Driver Gallery and 321 Gallery.

Siempre X Sarah Zapata Namziyal

“Siempre X” by Sarah Zapata, a piece modeled after arpilleras.

Textile Artist Sarah Zapata and Her Message

Zapata’s work focuses on themes that are often considered taboo but that continue to become relevant to a growing audience. Her work focuses on tradition, control systems, labor, cultural relevance, and themes surrounding acceptance of alternative lifestyles.

The first thing one would probably notice about Zapata’s work is the fuzziness. She envelops every area of her work in Crayola-colored fuzz. In the beginning of her career, Sarah tediously hand tufted rugs, but later on in her career she purchased a tufting machine to expedite the process. This allowed her to create her larger scale artworks more quickly and efficiently. Zapata also uses an industrial sewing machine. However, she notes that creating the rugs and carpets is still a labor-intensive affair.

The textile art of artist Sarah Zapata is characterized by enormous carpets that are sculptural and have patches of bright colors. Often, her art exhibits are interactive and contain a live performance.

For instance, Zapata once constructed a five foot knitted sock. The sock was constructed to contain her drag king persona, Jesus Zapato. The piece is a statement about her frustrations about the current masculine political system. Carpet weaving and the production of textiles are traditionally considered women’s weaving work. In the artist’s eyes, this makes it the perfect medium for the expression of her angst against what she sees as a male-dominated control system.

If I Could Sarah Zapata Nazmiyal

“If I Could” by Sarah Zapata, featured at the Deli Gallery.

An Intersection of Traditions in Artist Sarah Zapata’s Art

Zapata’s work centers on the theme of identity. Her extended family is split between the USA and Peru. She felt isolated from her Peruvian heritage when she lived in Texas during her younger years. She wanted to use fiber arts to connect with that side of her history. Her creations often use a combination of traditional Peruvian weaving skills and modern American carpet making techniques. This combination of techniques represents the intersection of cultures that have come to describe her life and work.

Sarah’s work is vibrant and bright, reflecting the colorful weaving of traditional Peruvian carpets and textiles, but they also resemble shag carpet, which is a representation of her American side. The result is works that reflect both traditions, both artistically and emotionally. Zapata honors the Peruvian women who have been creating traditional woven works for hundreds of years.

The work honors two traditional worlds, but it also expresses the tension and conflict between two worlds. Zapata grew up in an Evangelical Christian household, but she references a lot of guilt that stems from being a lesbian in such an atmosphere. Her inspiration for working in fiber arts came from a verse in the Psalms in the Bible about the “good woman” and how she performs honest labor and works the wool. These are the deeper meanings hidden within the shaggy, colorful pile.

Sarah Zapata Weaving Nazmiyal

Sarah Zapata weaving in her studio.

Textile Artist Sarah Zapata’s Process

The textile artworks of Zapata are labor-intensive, even though she uses modern machinery for the tufting. She hand-coils yarn, wrapping two pieces around each other. Zapata considers the labor involved as a type of currency, much in the traditional sense. She feels that pushing herself to levels approaching insanity is a way of coping with her guilt. She wants to feel the work tangibly and feel like she earned the finished product.

Zapata’s artworks are sculptural in nature and often carried out on a large scale. The public is frequently invited to interact with the pieces. For instance, an installation created for the Leslie-Lohman Museum asked visitors to take off their shoes and experience the exhibit in a very tactile way. The piece was called Haptic Tactics, and it was meant to invoke a feeling of humility and perhaps slight embarrassment. People are not accustomed to showing their feet, going barefoot, and “feeling” in public. This art exhibit was meant to evoke a feeling of intimacy and shared emotions.

If I Could Sarah Zapata

Another part of Zapata’s installation “If I Could” at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.

Sarah often uses coiled vessels for her mixed-media figures. The artist explains that they are inspired by an ancient pre-Colombian Paracas burial custom where the body is put in a natal position and then into a funerary basket. It represents both entering and leaving this world at the same time. In Paracas culture, intricate and colorful textiles were crafted for every important occasion in a person’s life. The memories of the person’s life and culture are woven into the fabrics, much in the same way Zapata uses her textiles to memorialize facets of her own life.

The shaggy lumps of wool and color rising from the floor is a glimpse into the inner world of the artist and the traditions that culminate in herself and her works. The coiled baskets represent her life and works, the continual death and birth process that happens to all of us along our life journey. Each of us is continually being remade into something new, and with that process, something must always die and fall away. In this way, Zapata’s work is deeply introspective, as was the work of the ancient master weavers who she emulates.

Haptic Tactics Sarah Zapata Nazmiyal

A close up of “Haptic Tactics” at the Leslie-Lohman Museum

Experiencing Artist Sarah Zapata’s Textile Artworks

The experience of visiting one of Zapata’s sculptures is often a bit shocking at first. The colors are bright and envelop the viewer from all sides. The combination of shaggy texture and modern sculptural pieces in bold colors is an assault on the senses. Then, to remove one’s shoes and experience the space is to allow oneself to feel a bit vulnerable. The combination of sensory elements comes together to create an experience that envelops the outer and inner world of the viewer. Sarah Zapata creates carpets and textiles in a new way that brings the audience inside her world and allows them to touch it and feel it.

Sarah Zapata is a contemporary artist who tackles the collective delusion relating to the outer and inner spaces. Her work breaks these boundaries in a way that must be felt and touched to comprehend. The installations represent these traditional lines of gender and embody the tension that exists between tradition and the modern world. Her exhibits are something that must be experienced to understand fully.

Character of Color Sarah Zapata Nazmiyal

“Character of Color Phenomena”, a rug sculpture by Sarah Zapata.

After seeing the textile art by artist Sarah Zapata, here are some vintage rugs from our collection that came to mind:

Colorful Vintage Moroccan Berber Rug Nazmiyal

Colorful Vintage Moroccan Berber Rug

Vintage Mid Century Swedish Rya Shag Rug Nazmiyal

Vintage Mid Century Swedish Rya Shag Rug

Vintage Scandinavian Swedish Rug by Ingrid Hellman Knafve Nazmiyal

Vintage Scandinavian Swedish Rug by Ingrid Hellman Knafve

Vintage Scandinavian Swedish Rya Rug Nazmiyal

Vintage Scandinavian Swedish Rya Rug

Vintage Round Swedish Rya Rug Nazmiyal

Vintage Round Swedish Rya Rug

Ivory Shag Pile Vintage Beni Ourain Moroccan Rug Nazmiyal

Ivory Shag Pile Vintage Beni Ourain Moroccan Rug

We love the work of Sarah Zapata and do not represent the artist or sell her pieces.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our other artist spotlights in our Textile Artists Series:

This art blog about textile artist Sarah Zapata was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rug Gallery in NYC.

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