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Weaving Together Identity and Tradition

Sarah Zapata and Deidrick Brackens showcase contemporary fiber art at the Moody Arts Center.

Sarah Zapata (Images by Ignacio Torres)

Fiber arts are front and center—where many in the art world will tell you they belong—at Rice University’s Moody Arts Center in a new show titled Narrative Threads: Fiber Art Today. The exhibit features work from 22 artists, including queer native Texans Sarah Zapata and Deidrick Brackens.

Sarah Zapata, a Peruvian American fabric artist, was born in Corpus Christi and raised in the Dallas area. She holds a bachelor’s degree in studio art and fibers from the University of North Texas. Even though she’s been in New York for 11 years, she feels gratified to have her work shown in her home state. “I think, being a lesbian from Texas, that it’s very important to make that perspective be robust, especially as the LGBTQ community continues to be demonized in the media.”

Brackens, who is from Mexia and currently lives in Los Angeles, holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas in Denton, and a master’s from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. 

The curators of the Moody exhibit explain that their goal is to explore each artist’s embrace of the traditional fiber medium to illuminate “topics related to identity, gender, race, sexuality, and power.”

Works in this medium have not always been on an equal footing with other traditional art forms. Because women—and other marginalized groups—are often the ones working in fiber arts, the genre has often been regarded as a “craft” rather than true art. This show makes it clear that the latter category is where these works belong.

Diedrick Brackens (Photo by Aubrey Mayer)

Fiber arts are a particularly vital art form in marginalized communities, and the exhibit makes that vitality palpable. “It comes back to the access of the practice,” says Zapata. “So many communities have practiced some of these techniques from the beginning of time—out of the necessity [to use these objects] or the necessity of expressing one’s existence. Textiles transcend language, yet they exist as documents.”

Women’s work and craft have  also been denigrated as a way to uphold hierarchies in the art world, Zapata adds. “Because of these limitations, fibers can be inherently conceptual. There also is this classicism that fibers can tackle: think about the difference between a work that is made with acrylic paint versus acrylic yarn. Accessibility is an incredible tool in art, just as much as concept is. I think these histories make the material immensely interesting, and a way to honor ancestors past that have upheld and challenged these processes.”

There is a deep sense of tradition and connecting with that which came before us. Zapata loves that those feelings exist in the world of fibers and textiles. “Tradition is thought of [as] something that is to be transcended and sedentary, but I love to think about how pastness can be examined and used to access futurity.”

For Zapata, textiles are both a material and a process. “So it’s something that continues to evolve. That evolution and sense of time is something that is truly so inspiring, as well as always changing. I think, also, what is so important is that every single person has a relationship to textiles, and so there already is a point of access for the viewer.”

Frauke Josenhans, one of the show’s senior curators, explains what viewers can expect. “The show brings together a diverse group of 22 international artists utilizing fiber in innovative new ways. Ranging from small-scale, intimate thread drawings to monumental sculptural installations, these fiber-based works are inherently experiential, fragmentary, and tactile, inviting viewers to consider new perspectives through familiar means.”

Many viewers will be surprised by the power, depth, and variety found in these works. Even Josenhans found herself surprised by the show’s impact. “The different dialogues between the works that were created through [this exhibit’s] installation and design were surprising—how the various pieces interact with each other through colors and patterns.”

The hope is that viewers who see this show will come to see fiber arts in a whole new light. As Alison Weaver, another senior curator, explains, “We hope viewers will discover a diverse group of new artists and be inspired by the innovative ways they express both personal and political narratives.”

Zapata’s personal goal is all about accessibility, or breaking down the idea that culture is only for the elite. “I hope that viewers see themselves [in the fiber art], or at least see how a material they’re so familiar with can be presented in a way they’re not familiar with. Having a show that is delving into the fiber [medium], it’s wonderful to see the vastness that exists within this world. I hope they see how tradition and history can be these malleable concepts, and that imagining a better future is possible.”

The Moody Arts Center curators look forward to sharing the exhibit with museum-goers. “We hope that our visitors will discover new artists working with textiles in various (and often surprising) ways, making fascinating connections to contemporary life and culture—including music, social media, and food.”

Zapata’s sentiments echo that of the curators: “I hope [visitors] engage with how different every artist’s work is—whether it is representative or abstract, immense or diminutive. Viewers should feel an air of excitement and interest in how complicated the world of textiles is, and how so much can be articulated with a multitude of techniques.”

What: “Narrative Threads”
Where: Moody
Center for the Arts at Rice University
When:  Through May 13
Info: 713-348-2787 or visit


Jenny Block

Jenny Block is a frequent contributor to a number of high-profile publications from New York Times to Huffington Post to Playboy and is the author of four books, including “Be That Unicorn: Find your Magic. Live your Truth. Share your Shine." She has appeared on a variety of television and radio programs from Nightline to BBC Radio to Great Day Houston and has performed and spoken at bookstores, events, conferences, and resorts in the US and Mexico, as well as on Holland America Cruise ships.
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