Simone Elizabeth Saunders: u∙n∙i∙t∙ySimone Elizabeth Saunders

Simone Elizabeth Saunders explores personal history, Afro-diaspora, and Black sisterhood through bold and colourful textiles. Borrowing motifs and iconography from her Jamaican heritage, art history, literature, music and current events, she creates tufted portraits of singular figures, each a montage of powerful, inspirational Black bodies that collectively surface a strong and resilient community.

Her works reconsider iconic figures and gestures in a contemporary light, including Star Gaze, in which a confident young woman reclines in her Black Lives Matter T-shirt. Four Queens, recalling Alphonse Mucha’s Art Nouveau work Precious Stones, reveals commanding women who pose seductively and defiantly above calls for Black Love, Black Dreams, Black Magic and Black Love.  This unabashed presence is common throughout all her works, at once challenging the viewer and demanding to be heard. 

Saunders further amplifies her subjects with dynamic backgrounds that often employ feminist expressions from moons and circular motifs to blossoming flowers suggesting cycles and connections to nature.  Totems are frequently included – predatory animals such as jaguars, leopards and snakes become emblems of strength and grace.  And yet, her works manifest a compelling tension between the powerful connotations of her imagery and colour palette with the soft tactility of her material.  Hand tufting her works, threads of acrylic, wool, velvet and more, introduce a tender dimension – a sensitive, vulnerable and enticing facet that dulls the misperception of Black women as hard and angry.  Furthermore, the mingling of individual threads of yarn brought together into collective whole echoes the interconnectedness of her subjects.  As much as these powerful portraits connote Black joy and resilience, it is how they are woven together into narratives of connection that, for Saunders, offers herself and others a potent sense of belonging. 

Type: Exhibition

Date: Oct 12, 2022 - Jan 29, 2023

Artist: Simone Elizabeth Saunders

Curated by: Ryan Doherty

About the Artist

(she/her) 

Simone Elizabeth Saunders (she/her) is a textile artist based in Mohkinstsis – Calgary, Canada. She holds a B.F.A. with Distinction from the Alberta University of Arts in 2020. Her textiles are hand tufted in the medium of rug-making using a punch-needle and tufting machine. 

Saunders explores themes of the diaspora, ancestorship and Black womanhood. Her colourful textiles highlight motifs and iconography from her Jamaican heritage and engage with socio-cultural factors reclaiming power from oppressive ideologies. Saunders has a career in the theatre arts, a previous B.F.A. from the University of Alberta’s Acting Conservatory. Weaving her theatre experiences and integrating dramatism and story-telling within her creations – Simone uplifts narratives of Black joy and resilience.  

Simone was named one of 20 “top Compelling Calgarians for 2022”. She was awarded the National Winner for the Bank of Montreal’s 1st Art Competition in 2020. Simone has been internationally featured, select media credits include: Studio Magazine, Create Magazine, Canada’s House&Home Magazine, CBC Arts, CBCq, Studio Magazine, Boooooom, Uppercase Magazine, Love Embroidery (UK), Pom-Pom Magazine (England), Textiel Plus (Netherlands), FairLady (South Africa), Surface Design Journal, Colossal and DesignMilk (USA).

Recent exhibitions include the Minneapolis Art Institute (Minnesota), the Mint Museum (North Carolina), Contemporary Calgary, the Alberta Craft Council for the Arts and Art Museum University of Toronto. Saunders has been collected by many international museums and several exhibitions are upcoming including The Social Fabric at ArtsWestchester (New York) opening October 2022. She is represented by Claire Oliver Gallery (New York) where her debut exhibition opens March 2023. 

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Simone Elizabeth Saunders: u•n•i•t•y. is organized by Contemporary Calgary and curated by Ryan Doherty. Works courtesy of the artist and Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, NY. The coordinating curator for this presentation is Julia Brucculieri, Curatorial and Collection Assistant at the Textile Museum of Canada. 

Simone Elizabeth Saunders: u•n•i•t•y. is made possible by Lead Sponsor BMO Financial Group. 

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