When Sarah Zapata ('11) attended UNT, she found an unusual source of inspiration -- telephone books.
Back then, telephone books were still being widely distributed, and she used the thin pages to weave through her loom.
She now uses the more traditional element of yarn. But her creativity has never faltered, with her colorful textiles exhibited in museums around the world and gaining attention in The New York Times and New York magazine. She relies on her Peruvian and Christian background to fuel her ideas for the challenging format, but her education at the College of Visual Arts and Design has played an important part as well.
"I feel immensely thankful every day," she says. "I'm living the life I never thought I would or deserved."
Zapata, who grew up in Corpus Christi and Plano, was always interested in textiles.
"It was really an accessible way of moving about a world," she says. "As a kid, there's so little you can control. But you can control what your body is adorned with."
She enrolled at UNT for its strong reputation in art, and teachers Amie Adelman and Lesli Robertson gave her valuable advice on the technical aspects and visual form.
"I was definitely a weaving person," she says. "I found it really incredible and flexible."
When she moved to New York City a few months after graduation, she brought along the phone books and a loom she purchased after receiving a grant from the Dallas Museum of Art her senior year. She lived in a four-bedroom apartment in Bushwick, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, with several other classmates -- including Ignacio Torres ('10), a fashion photographer, and Jeffrey Rodriguez ('11), the design lead at Work & Co. The roommates also included Annie Strole ('11), a make-up artist and author of Homemade Beauty, and her husband, Paul Samples ('11), an associate design director at Work & Co, who live in Copenhagen.
Zapata was ready to pursue her artistic ambitions.
"New York was always the goal," she says. "I did want to come here, even though it's a tough place and can be overwhelming. But there is so much possibility and that is incredible."
But Zapata took things slowly.
"I wanted a long career -- I focused on patience instead of getting a studio," she says.
In her first couple of weeks, she found a job at a boutique, Dear Fieldbinder, now called Article&. One of the owners, Brent Steen ('98), was a UNT alumnus who hired her because she was an alum too. When she wasn't at the shop, she worked on her loom that took up most of her tiny bedroom. She participated in open studios, and soon received her first piece of press in Metropolis magazine. In 2016, El Museo del Barrio commissioned her first installation, Siempre X.
And now, she says, "An abundance of telephone books had turned into an abundance of yarn."
Zapata works in a medium that requires time and concentration.
"I think labor for me is to honor the tradition," she says. "It is a humbling process."
She notes that she's not super precious about her work and doesn't have a favorite piece.
Zapata conducts deep research for her work. Her experience and identity play a large role. Her father is from Peru, so she incorporates Peruvian traditions into her art -- as well as exploring the relationship between her queerness and her evangelical Christian heritage.
For example, in the 2019 exhibit Of This World Rather, she used striped cloth to convey barred images, which were used to pinpoint the outcasts in society since medieval times.
In 2020, her work was exhibited in a solo show in a Peruvian museum -- The Taxing of a Fruitful Procession, in which faces emerged from piles of the textiles, inspired by the Sacsayhuaman in Peru and the Battle of Jericho.
She's currently working on her largest installation, for the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The piece will include reds, scarlets and purples around the space as well as ruin figures similar to Procession.
"I want it to be a reveal because it's so much work and I like the drama of that," she says.
And Zapata was recently featured in the "YES TO" campaign from Performance Space New York, an exhibition space for emerging artists.
"I'm interested in having a long career and being able to do work I care about and that is constantly engaging and moving forward," she says.