The Textile Museum of Canada (the Museum) will present Simone Elizabeth Saunders: u.n.i.t.y., an exhibition of works by Simone Elizabeth Saunders, evoking personal history, Afro diaspora, and Black sisterhood through portraits created with bold, colourful textiles. Saunders’ dramatic tufted works incorporate motifs from her Jamaican heritage and engage with sociocultural factors to reclaim power from oppressive ideologies. Saunders’ background in theatre arts informs her practice as she integrates dramatism and story-telling within her singular creations. Organized by Contemporary Calgary Senior Curator Ryan Doherty, the exhibition will be on view in Toronto from October 12, 2022, to January 29, 2023.
Borrowing iconography from her Jamaican heritage, art history, literature, music, and current events, Saunders depicts single female figures, each a montage of powerful, inspirational Black bodies that collectively surface as a strong and resilient community. As much as these eloquent portraits connote Black joy and perseverance it is when they are presented together that they become narratives of connection that, for Saunders, offers herself and others a potent sense of belonging.
“We are thrilled to launch our fall season with such an uplifting exhibition that presents the power, confidence and beauty of Black lives with an artistry that mesmerizes” said Kirsten Kamper, Director and CEO of the Textile Museum of Canada. “Simone Elizabeth Saunders: u.n.i.t.y. builds on years of Museum exhibitions and partnerships celebrating textile techniques that are being reinterpreted by a new generation of artists, revealing and sharing stories of the people who continue to shape and innovate textile practices today.”
The exhibition includes pieces from Saunders’ Ancestral Bodies series (begun in 2021) honouring her ancestors, and her Protect Black Women series (2020-2021) featuring Four Queens (2021) inspired by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha’s Art Nouveau work Precious Stones (1900), which shows iconic figures and gestures amidst decorative botanical motifs. In Four Queens, Black women take similar poses, but gaze directly at viewers as embodiments of Black Power, Black Dreams, Black Magic, and Black Love. Saunders emulates Mucha’s turn-of-the-last-century artwork in her own style, championing Black womanhood and creating what she calls “Black Nouveau."
“Saunders work manifests a compelling tension between the powerful connotations of her imagery and colour palette with the soft tactility of her materials,” said Doherty. “Hand tufting her works, threads of acrylic, wool, velvet, and more, introduce a tender dimension—a sensitive, vulnerable, and enticing facet to dismantle the misperceptions of Black women. Furthermore, the mingling of individual threads of yarn brought together into a collective whole, echoes the interconnectedness of her subjects.”
While Saunders has only recently embraced textile art, her great-grandfather in Jamaica was an affluent tailor. She has also been influenced by a range of artists including Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, Wangechi Mutu, and Renaissance tapestries. Among her influences, she credits Black figures across disciplines and generations who have excelled at their craft and sparked joy including, Maya Angelou, Octavia Butler, H.E.R., Alicia Keys, Queen Latifah, Toni Morrison, Nina Simone, Kehinde Wiley, and Serena Williams among many others.
About the Artist
Simone Elizabeth Saunders (she/her) was born in Calgary, Alberta where she continues to live and work. She received a BFA (Major in Fibre) from Alberta University of the Arts in 2020, and a BFA (Performance) from University of Alberta in 2006. Her textiles are hand tufted mixtures of wool, acrylic, silk, and velvet on rug warp, using a tufting gun and punch needle techniques.
Saunders is a classically trained actor who, prior to making textiles, spent over a decade acting, producing, and writing as a founding member of the Afrocentric Calgary theatre company Ellipsis Tree Collective. The world of theater and film propelled Saunders’ interest in set design, which further ignited her interest in visual arts—specifically fibre arts.
Saunders’ work has been exhibited at Alberta Crafts Council, Edmonton, AB; Art Museum at the University of Toronto, ON; Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, NY; Contemporary Calgary, AB; Marion Nicoll Gallery, Calgary, AB; Metropolitan State University, Denver, CO; Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN; and The Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC. She is included in the exhibition The Social Fabric at ArtsWestchester, White Plains, NY, opening October 2022.
Saunders’ work is in the collections of 21c Museum Hotel, Chicago, IL; Hill Harper House, Detroit, MI; Minneapolis Institute of Art, and The Mint Museum.
Saunders was the National Winner of the Bank of Montreal’s 1st ART! competition in 2020. Her work has been covered by national and international media including Black Art Magazine, Booooooom, Calgary Herald, Canadian Art, CBC, Colossal, Create! Magazine, CTV, Design Milk, Elephant, Fair Lady Magazine Galleries West, Pom-Pom Magazine, Studio Magazine, Surface Design Journal, Toronto Star, and Uppercase Magazine.
She is represented by Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, NY, where she will have her debut exhibition opening in March 2023.
Organization and Support
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.
Simone Elizabeth Saunders will present an Artist Talk at the Museum on Saturday, October 22, 2022. Check the Museum website for further details on this and other exhibition programs starting October 1, 2022.
Opening Hours: Monday – Tuesday: Closed; Wednesday: 11 am – 8 pm (last entry at 7:30 pm);
Thursday – Saturday: 11 am – 6 pm (last entry at 5:30 pm); Sunday: 12 pm – 5 pm (last entry at 4:30 pm)
Admission Prices: Adult $15.00; Youth (6-18 years) $6.00; Student (with valid Post-Secondary ID) $6.00; Seniors (65 years+) $10.00; Children (5 years and under) FREE; Members FREE
About the Textile Museum of Canada
The Textile Museum of Canada inspires understanding of the human experience through textiles. It is the only museum in Canada dedicated solely to textile arts. The Museum ignites creativity, inspires wonder, and sparks conversation through the stories held within a global collection of 15,000 textiles, active engagement with contemporary art practices, a free textile learning hub, and public programs.
For more information, visit: textilemuseum.ca, @textilemuseumofcanada, and #TMCtoronto, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.