Arts·Opening Up

'Love, strength, the resilience we have': Simone Saunders's textile work celebrates Black excellence

"I like to keep my work positive and playful and colourful even if there are dark undertones within the work itself because to me that is the joy of life."

'I like to keep my work positive and playful and colourful because to me that is the joy of life'

"I like to keep my work positive and playful and colourful even if there are dark undertones within the work itself because to me that is the joy of life." 3:32

In Opening Up, the sequel to our self-shot video series COVID Residencies, we're asking artists how the upheavals and uprisings of 2020 are affecting their process and work.

Do you know what tufting is? The practice has been around for centuries and involves weaving a thread through a base material (animal skin, cloth, etc.), which can be executed in many different ways. In the case of Calgary visual artist Simone Elizabeth Saunders and her strikingly vibrant work, she uses a tufting gun power tool that allows her to essentially paint on a canvas — except the canvas is monk's cloth and the paint is yarn.

Simone is immunocompromised, which has limited her movement throughout the pandemic. Fortunately, her studio is at home. "It really has been a blessing in disguise within the pandemic for me to be inside and to work and have a routine," she says. "Sometimes it's a balance with mental health. Within the Black Lives Matter movement and within the pandemic, so much has been lost, and sometimes it's hard to grasp that — to feel that isolation and that loneliness."

"I am fortunate to have a partner and two dogs to snuggle. But not everyone has that and I understand that. So my fortune is here within the studio, to be able to create, to be able to share from the comfort of my own home."

(Simone Saunders)

The majority of Simone's tufting work celebrates Black excellence and usually involves a multi-coloured portrait of an individual. "As an artist, I like to keep my work positive and playful and colourful even if there are dark undertones within the work itself because to me that is the joy of life — love, power, strength, the resilience that we have."

In this video, watch Simone's process as she creates a new piece entitled "She Grows," a portrait of a young Black girl standing on top of a waterfall.

"Thinking about the youth — how they are coping with this pandemic and how young Black children are realizing the Black Lives Matter movement, and really growing into the skin that they are in," Simone explains. "You consider that you never step into the same river twice. And there's this notion of moving forward and vying for change."

(Simone Saunders)

Follow Simone Saunders here.

About the Author

As a young child, March Mercanti would play with his action figures for countless hours because he was obsessed with telling stories...to himself. Currently, March is a filmmaker living in Toronto, ON. He works at CBC Arts creating documentaries for artists across Canada.

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