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Charlotte artist using woven, colorful 'noodles' to tell stories about renewal

Much of Katrina Sánchez's work has an intent to bring joy and peace to others.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Katrina Sánchez weaves together two multicolored knitted "noodles," working each one over and under the other to produce a vibrant grid of sorts. Each noodle has been knit with care and then stuffed before the weaving begins. 

Each of Sánchez's weavings — which have been featured in galleries and displays in the Carolinas and beyond — is a labor of love.

Vibrant color in action

Sánchez has been creating fiber arts since childhood after their mom taught them to crochet around age 10. 

Sánchez associates much of the vibrant color that's clear throughout their work with Panama, where they were born.  

"That's where I've experienced the most color in the environment," Sánchez said. "So in the rain forest in the natural world, in my grandma's garden, through traditional dresses like the polleras, and through a lot of the local artwork, and artisanal crafts, as well."

These colors — neon green, hot pinks, golden yellow, bright blue and more — can all be seen in Sánchez's weaving. 

Credit: WCNC

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Sánchez said in addition to the influence Panama has had on their art, the act of creating itself is tied to family. 

"It also has to do a lot with my connection to my mom and my abuela, and what I've always seen them do, which is making things," Sánchez said. "I feel like when you're an artist, you're just constantly taking materials and making something new."

Art as a tool for healing

Sánchez honed their craft at UNC Charlotte, studying fiber art. 

In Sánchez's final semester, a gunman opened fire inside Kennedy Hall on the final day of class. Two students, Reed Parlier and Riley Howell, were killed. Four others were hurt. 

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Sánchez was starting a residency at Goodyear Arts directly after graduation and wanted to use that time to create something that embodied healing.

"I was trying to figure out what to do with my work for the residency, and I was very drained from everything that happened, as I'm sure a lot — the whole student body was," Sánchez said.

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Sánchez decided to repair old clothing with vibrant, colorful thread, using the mending of fabric to create work that brings joy to others.

Credit: Logan Cyrus

"Something that people typically want to touch and enjoy and hug," Sánchez said. "That was what I wanted my work to kind of represent. And it happened, I think, through that trauma into something that could be enjoyed by others."

This mending work has stuck with Sánchez, and can even be seen in a self-portrait mural they created alongside their fiancé, an artist who goes by the name Cheeks.

"We decided to do my portrait of me looking down and mending a pair of jeans, going back to that beginning project that kind of started at all," Sánchez said. 

Credit: Katrina Sánchez

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That intent to bring joy, peace and renewal to others has been a common thread in Sánchez's work. 

Early in the pandemic, when many people were isolated and staying indoors, Sánchez was struck by the ways the community took care of one another despite the challenges. 

Sánchez created a woven piece spelling out "Take Care," which was fixed to a gate in NoDa to brighten the community. They later collaborated with artist Jillian Mueller to make a second iteration of the piece.

Credit: Katrina Sánchez

Sending a message

Sánchez recently broke away from their typical noodle structure for a show at Goodyear Arts called Not In Repose, which came in response to decisions made by the Supreme Court including overturning the Roe v. Wade ruling.

In this piece, Sánchez chose to use pantyhose instead of yarn to evoke the mod fashion of the 1960s, reminiscing on how fashion choices reclaim control and expression. 

Credit: WCNC

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"I think what I admire most is just how she captures community and humanity and her work in a playful way that still sends a strong message," Meredith Connelly, an artist and designer who curated Not In Repose, said. "With her work in Not In Repose, there's still color and beads and playfulness. But when you start to really unravel the message, there's a depth to it that really pulls you in."

Sánchez currently has work featured through the nonprofit ArtPop, which showcases artists in public spaces to make art more accessible for all. This means in addition to seeing Sánchez's work in galleries and at exhibits, people can experience the art from the highway.

Credit: David Bulfin

Brooke Gibbons, director of impact and sustainability operations at ArtPop, said seeing Sánchez's work in a billboard setting helps to expand the definition of experiencing art.  

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"Some people, when they think about the arts, they may just think in terms of visual art or just in fine art or just in painting," Gibbons said. "When we have someone like Kat Sánchez it proves that art can go beyond just 2D. It is 3D, it is performance, it moves, you can experience it. With Kat's work, you can touch it, you can feel it."

'Build empathy through visual power'

Sánchez has several new pieces that will be released this month with Lingua Franca NYC, all of which are inspired by different memories from Panama -- specifically the colors of polleras. 

Reflecting on the memories and experiences that have shaped their work, Sánchez said representation in the art community allows all perspectives to be seen.   

Credit: WCNC

"We want to see all perspectives and we want to build empathy through visual power," Sánchez said. "That's really, I think, what art making is -- is telling a story or creating some kind of emotional response, and hopefully, either teaching someone something or opening and widening their point of view."

One thread at a time, Sánchez's work tells a story. 

Contact Emma Korynta at ekorynta@wcnc.com and follow her on Twitter. 

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