Current Issue #488

Meet Your Maker:
Sandra Saunders

Sandra Saunders, The Came Like a Tsunami (2017), synthetic polymer paint and paper on board, courtesy the artist
Sam Roberts
Sandra Saunders, They Came Like a Tsunami (2017), synthetic polymer paint and paper on board, courtesy the artist

Living and working in Wangary, 45km north-west of Port Lincoln, Ngarrindjeri artist and activist Sandra Saunders confronts the environmental and political issues of our time.

In her 2017 series of paintings They came like a Tsunami, Sandra Saunders depicts the colonisation of Australia as a huge wave. In bright vibrant acrylics, the tsunami engulfs thousands of years of Indigenous culture leaving a trail of destruction still felt to this day.

The impact of colonisation and what is happening in this country now are ongoing themes for Saunders. A Ngarrindjeri artist and activist, Saunders lives and works in Wangary, 45 km north-west of Port Lincoln. Now is a busy time for Saunders as she prepares a new body of work for Tarnanthi 2019, running at the Art Gallery of South Australia from 18 October. Her new works focus on the environment and have been developed through a Guildhouse Catapult mentorship with Dr Jess Wallace. Saunders says, “I’m over the moon to have the mentorship. I’m 72 years old and didn’t think I would get it. Jess has helped me so much and introduced me to oils, good brushes and painting on Belgian linen canvas.”

Living in the country, Saunders is confronted with climate change everyday. Surrounded by farmland, she sees more and more trees being felled for sheep grazing. Nearby Lake Wangary is polluted and the magnificent gums have all died.

Sandra Saunders on her front deck
Jess Wallace
Sandra Saunders on her front deck

She’s worried about the future. “What’s it going to be like for our grandchildren and their children?” she asks. “The time has come to stand up.” Her new work is a passionate call to action. “We have to take responsibility for what is happening,” she says. For Tarnanthi, Saunders will show four paintings together with a film made in collaboration with Wallace. Each painting depicts recent events that have resulted from climate change or contributed to it. Poor Fish imagines hundreds of dead fish transported from the Murray- Darling Basin and dumped on Parliament House in Canberra. On the Verge shows the impact of oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

Working in oil paints is new for Saunders and she’s worried that the paintings won’t be dry in time for Tarnanthi. “The lesson I’ve learned is that you need the time to complete the works, but I’m looking forward to showing them,” she says. “I want to encourage people to act, to do something. If my paintings can influence how people think and take action, that would make me really happy.”

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Guildhouse is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting South Australia visual artist, craftspeople and designers to develop and maintain sustainable careers.

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Julianne Pierce

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