*Featured photo: Simone Elizabeth Saunders, Break Away at Dawn, 2022, Unearthing Unicorns series, Hand tufted velvet, acrylic and wool yarn on rug warp, 66 x 56 x 1 in
CLAIRE OLIVER GALLERY – NEW YORK
DAL 17 MARZO AL 13 MAGGIO 2023
Claire Oliver Gallery is pleased to announce Unearthing Unicorns, the debut solo exhibition by artist Simone Elizabeth Saunders. Unearthing Unicorns showcases the artist’s large-scale textile works that explore and recontextualize the iconography of the famed High Renaissance era Unicorn Tapestries in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the early advertising posters seen through a contemporary Black feminist lens. The artist’s sweeping art historical reframing is rendered in vibrant polychrome hand-tufted textiles that both reference the prized woven tapestries of the Renaissance as well as the more contemporary Afro-Futurists and feminist craft movement. Unearthing Unicorns will be on view in Harlem March 17 – May 13, 2023.
“Unearthing Unicorns references both literal and figurative iterations,” states Saunders. “I reimagine stories told throughout history, such as the famous and treasured Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, to show Black women portrayed as powerful, highly valued, and respected. Through my work, I want to empower and encourage Black women to never shrink away but instead lean into being the fierce, graceful, and beautiful just as we are – just like the Unicorn. The works in Unearthing Unicorns have allowed me to scrutinize the art historical canon and point out fables that are rooted in colonialism. My goal with this exhibition is to remix these allegories and put Black womanhood as central and further defining that character as one that embodies joy, strength and resilience.”
The exhibition is designed as a conversation between two of Saunders’ series: Verchü and the Chronicles of the Unicorn, which directly reframes the Renaissance era Hunt of the Unicorn’s iconography of the Unicorn as a creature of mysticism and grace in a dynamic retelling of a rescue in place of a hunt, and Four Queens, the artist’s “Black Nouveau” works that position Black women in reimagined renditions of Alphonse Mucha’s sexualized advertising works, where the product these women are selling is inclusivity, grace, love and respect.
Verchü and the Chronicles of the Unicorn
Saunders’ most recent series of works are a reinterpretation of the Hunt of the Unicorn, centering her heroine Verchü (phonetic spelling of Virtue) a Black woman who ultimately saves the Unicorn in a pointed retelling of the allegorical Renaissance hunt. The utopian world depicted in Saunders’ work is as detailed and referential as the original, replacing the white virgin with a symbol of Black femininity amid lush tropical flora and fauna.
In the first tapestry, Verchü encounters the Unicorn within the white fence (sacred garden) where she frees the Unicorn of its chains. In the second, Verchü rides the freed Unicorn galloping with her braids and the Unicorn’s mane flowing in the wind while shadowy figures follow behind them. In the third tapestry Verchü and the Unicorn are seen nestled below a rocky cliff with a cascading waterfall. In the fourth and final work, Verchü and the Unicorn embrace, along with a harmonious menagerie, revealing the restoration of a beautiful and synchronized world.
Saunders’ Four Queens aims to insert Black Women into scenes reminiscent of Art Nouveau, in specific Alphonse Mucha’s lithographs. Saunders’ celebrates her subjects’ softness, elegance, beauty, and vulnerability. The resulting images, termed “Black Nouveau,” are images resplendent with ornate and enticing backgrounds, reframing the vernacular of Art Nouveau advertising with a slogan of Black empowerment.