A Bright New Spin on Ancient “Mummy Bundles”

HUMANITIES, Fall 2023, Volume 44, Number 4

The Peruvian American artist Sarah Zapata creates sculptures, installations, and performances with textiles in homage to the craft heritage of her father’s native South America. In her practice, she employs modern and ancient weaving techniques and merges synthetic and natural fibers to create large-scale pieces whose abstract forms and deliberately kitschy palette put a contemporary and personal spin on traditional fiber arts—from tapestries and rugs to funerary wraps.  

It is the latter that influenced this arresting piece. Zapata drew inspiration from the burial rituals of the Paracas people (c. 900 BCE–400 CE), who lived in what is today southern Peru. In pre-Columbian Paracas society, the deceased were wrapped in layers of woven and embroidered textiles as part of their preparation for the afterlife. A little domestic waste IV references these so-called “mummy bundles,” offering a whimsical interpretation of their marriage of fabric and flesh. Taking the shape of an anthropomorphic curved cross, Zapata’s three-foot-tall sculpture of coiled rope and multicolored yarn nods not only to its creator’s Peruvian background but also to her Christian evangelical upbringing and, in its hallucinatory rainbow palette, to her queer sexuality. 

To see this fantastical work in person, visit “Craft Front & Center,” an NEH-supported exhibition that highlights the breadth and originality of the field of craft. The survey is on view through mid-January at New York City’s Museum of Arts and Design.