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Luxuriant Tufted Portraits by Artist Simone Elizabeth Saunders Exude Black Joy
June 7, 2022
Simone Elizabeth Saunders’ love-based practice adds its own texture to the magic of Black joy and resilience. On Instagram, she writes:
I celebrate the wins. I know the darkness in this world, so do you. It can drag us down. And when I post, positive messaging is key for me. To share light and love and to look at the world as vibrant and colourful as it can be….It’s reflected in my textiles, to uplift narratives often tethered to dark undertones, with the gift of bright hues. I’m not asking anyone to “smile”, because life will hurt. But hold onto your light… keep grasp of your love.
For Saunders (previously), celebrating love is not grand, abstract, or impossible to grasp. It’s as honest as a single strand of thread. Close-ups of her textiles, rug-tufting, and punch-needle works reveal what it means to paint with fabric—that is, to embrace the fluidity of color and create intricacy in its different shades, not taking the versatility or collective power of the individual pieces for granted. The artist’s attention to detail adds depth, dynamism, and life to each scene so that the subjects are captured in their full essence.
In The Four Queens, Saunders draws on the tradition of Art Nouveau, a period of art history specifically concerned with capturing feminine beauty and radiance. Though the artist felt an attraction to the 18th-century tradition, she couldn’t form a genuine bond with the material because of its severe underrepresentation. The heart of these whimsical scenes, the epitome of angelic beauty, was often a white face. And so, Saunders set out to create her own style: Black Nouveau.
In this approach, the essence of beauty is “Black Dreams,” “Black Power,” “Black Love,” and “Black Magic.” Powerful prints that paint the skies of each scene are reminiscent of African motifs in which stories are told through patterns and color. Saunders keeps true to her roots here and offers a connection in a genre that’s typically been limited.
Works like “Excellence” show that the gaze is the point of entry and also the home of Black liberation; where it is nurtured, where it grows, and where we are known. Whether it’s the kind expression of the “Queen of Diamonds” slouching loosely on her throne or the peering side-eye of the “Queen of Hearts,” Saunder’s works emanate the femininity, leadership, power, and joy of Black womanhood.
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