For Katrina Sanchez Standfield, fiber art is family

People The Arts

August 3, 2022



by Grant Alexander

Katrina Sanchez Standfield has not changed much from the young child who cruised around her neighborhood on a bike, tossing out paintings like a paperboy. Today, she has traded the paintbrush for yarn but is still trying to connect with anyone and everyone she can through her vibrant, exuberant art. 

Standfield is a Panamanian American fiber artist based in Charlotte. Born in Panama, her life then scattered itself across the South during childhood.

While an art student at UNC Charlotte, Standfield stumbled across the Fibers department. She was stunned to learn that you could gain an education in textiles, and swiftly decided to switch from her focus on painting. After graduating, she was a seamstress for a couple of years until fully committing to an art career in 2019, when she began a residency at Goodyear Arts.

Kat’s inspiration

For Standfield, fiber art is family. In all of her years in different places, she struggled to find a home, but never stopped crocheting and knitting as her mom taught her when she was 10.

“It reminds me of my safe place, back in Panama. That is where I am always happy,” Standfield says. “The colors of the rainforest always look just like the textiles my grandmother would make to decorate her house. After moving around for so long, I had found home in my matriarchs’ traditions.”

In addition to family, Standfield’s art derives inspiration from her Panamanian heritage. Standfield hopes to honor the indigenous peoples of Panama, whose textured molas decorate the local markets, and her office alike.

“I really like fiber because I think it’s something that everyone connects to,” says Standfield, acknowledging that indigenous people around the world have been using textiles and fiber for thousands of years, to make everything from art to warm clothing. “It’s essentially a part of our evolution. I think it’s ingrained in us,” she says.

photo left by Taylor Lee Nicholson; photo right courtesy Katrina Sanchez Standfield

Kat’s goals

Standfield believes this perspective is often stifled by the popular European narrative that limits art and alienates people from it. Her art aims to show people that textiles are more than just hobbies or cultural practices: They can be fine art and styled after indigenous practices at the same time.

“I hate when people box in art, because art has no walls. Anyone can make art that belongs in a museum or on a mural. Both are beautiful and take finesse. I tell people that all the time. It is in our bones, we only need to tap into it and let it flow out.”

In response to the limitations, Standfield makes an active effort to display her art in galleries as well as accessible, street platforms. With the help of a the nonprofit ArtPop, she has displayed some of her art on murals, big screens and even billboards. Locally, her works have been shown at SOCO Gallery and The Mint Museum. Currently, her piece titled “An Earnest Place to Find Felicidad” is on view at Mint Museum Uptown in conjunction with Diedrick Brackens: Art of Bulrushes.

No matter where she’s showing it, Standfield recently has been interested in making her art interactive and large scale. In doing so, she has witnessed the positive effects of awakening the viewers’ “inner child.”

Viewing art fosters empathy by granting outsiders a glance into someone else’s reality. But, when viewers can become collaborators by intimately engaging with the art, Standfield believes a deeper connection is formed.

photos by Nani Lee

Joyful art is radical

At the genesis of her career, most of Standfield’s art was littered with deliberate political sentiments. As she progressed, she began to embrace the power of making art without an organized plan or predisposed meaning. She indulged herself, making art purely based on feelings and emotions and found freedom.

However, this did not mean that her art was no longer political or real. Nor did it remove the radical role she hoped to play as an artist.

“Art is a reflection of what’s around us, whether it’s imagery of nature or the human form,” Standfield says. “I feel like in a way, when you physically create something that is a reflection, whether it’s abstracted or not, you are creating something based in reality. It’s a validation of your existence. In the end, you can’t really separate life and the world and politics and things from your existence and the things that you make. So you may as well express yourself freely. It will lead to the most authenticity.”

After graduating in 2019, Standfield experienced a school shooting in which two students were killed and four others were injured. The shooting occurred across from the building she was in, and she remembers hiding for hours. As she hid, she listened to the disoriented cries of a girl who had been in a shooting before.

“I was going into the [Goodyear Arts] residency processing that as well as being tired and exhausted. I let myself do mending work for it, which is something I had been wanting to do but never did. I have always talked about that work being caring for others because you are restoring and making something new out of people’s items. It was more about not pointing out what’s wrong but instead making a space for healing, which is what I personally needed at that time.”

By allowing herself to respond to her trauma in a healing way and create a space where people could receive joy from her efforts, Standfield felt as if she was doing the most liberated and restorative work possible.

“As a college community, I thought we all needed it, and today as a nation, I believe people are longing for much of the same,” she says. SP


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