Simone Cotrell, an African-Caribbean Canadian artist based in Waterloo Region, presented work at her first solo exhibition last Friday (April 22) at the Minds Eye Studio Art Gallery and Yoga Studio in Kitchener. 

Cotrell was very happy with how the reception went. “This first show was complete bliss. The turnout was amazing and the vibe and energy was so beautiful,” she said.

Glodeane Brown, who was the guest curator for Cotrell’s show, was also pleased with the turnout that evening. “Simone has a lot of community support and many of the people who were there that night came from outside the region to see the exhibition,” Brown said. 

People were drawn in by Cotrell’s signature use of colours, geometric shapes, and line work. “I would consider my art style to be a mix of abstraction with realism,” she said. “It’s very bold, vibrant and outspoken, as well as fluid. A lot, if not all, of my style is influenced by my African-Caribbean culture.”

Figures in Cotrell’s work are shown in many body shapes and sizes, multiple shades of skin tones, and various hair textures and styles. Brown believes these diverse portrayals of Black womanhood and femininity resonated with attendees at the show.

(Conan Stark/insideWaterloo)

“Simone’s work is highly relatable to the Black community,” Brown said. “I had several conversations that evening with visitors about Black beauty and childhood memories that were sparked by her paintings.” Brown said she wouldn’t have been able to have these same conversations with a majority white audience. “There’s something wonderful about talking to someone and they just ‘get it’ without further explanation.”

“My work is a tribute to BIPOC women,” Cotrell explained. “I wanted to showcase the beauty of our community.” She was born and raised in Waterloo Region, a place that has historically lacked representation of the Black, Indigenous and racialized community. “I wasn’t able to go to the art gallery or museum or even walk down the street and see any or relate to any artwork that looked like myself or anyone from the BIPOC community,” she said.

As a result, Cotrell grew to dislike her hometown. The lack of representation made her feel like she didn’t belong, so she set out to change this through her artistic practice. “From young boys and girls to grown women and men, representation is something that is always needed,” Cotrell said. “The BIPOC community has made up a huge part of and has always been a part of the Waterloo Region.”

Cotrell is a self-taught/academic artist who started painting in 2015. After a one year hiatus from all visual art mediums she picked painting back up again in 2020. As a mother of three children, she said that making art during the COVID-19 pandemic was a much needed outlet for her.

Cotrell titled her first show Prelude to nod to how the exhibition was just the start of things to come from her. Brown said she expects Cotrell will go on and do big things, not just in the art world but also for racialized artists. 

Highlighting and supporting artists in Waterloo Region

Cotrell’s reception marked the fourth solo show Brown has curated since the summer of 2020. In addition to being a curator, Brown is also an arts and culture blogger/writer, arts management professional, and public art coordinator. Brown says her curation is an extension of the work she has been doing over the past several years.

“Similar to my blog, I like to highlight artists from different genres and at different stages of their careers and give a platform to artists and events that I think are interesting and that more people should know about.” Brown said that she especially looks to work with racialized artists, as the art world is permeated by whiteness.

Brown wants to see her efforts to support the arts reflected at the regional level. “I would love to see more affordable art spaces in Waterloo Region, more exhibition spaces, and more shine and resources being given to smaller arts organizations,” Brown said. “There are a lot of artists and arts organizations here working hard and doing important, amazing work and I don’t think we hear about it enough.”