(DISPATCH) In 2020, Eliana Calle-Saari, an artist and printmaker from Columbus, went to visit her daughter, who was in medical school on the island of Antigua in the Lesser Antilles.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic just getting underway, Antigua went into lockdown and Calle-Saari found herself a captive for several months on the Caribbean island.
Making use of the time and location, she began to create works that reflected the lives of the people she was living around.
“Everything had stopped,” Calle-Saari said. “Tourists returned home; resorts, banks, churches, schools, beaches closed, and strict curfews and mask mandates were imposed.”
But, she said, the women didn’t stop.
“While the men were sitting in the shade, the women were lugging laundry, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids … This exhibit is a love letter to Antigua and to the women there.”
Exhibit a tribute to women of Antigua
“Women Carry the Weight of the World: Pandemic Work by Eliana Calle-Saari,” on view in Ohio Dominican University’s Wehrle Gallery, captures the women and their work in watercolor paintings and a variety of inventive prints.
The works are grouped according to their format. One side of the gallery is entirely devoted to “Domesticity,” 73 multicolor silkscreen prints mounted on pillowcases and pieces of sheets, and hung with clothespins on three rows of clotheslines.
The images are all of three different Antigua houses, printed in shades of green, orange, purple, yellow and gray. In real life, the little houses are rather shabby and drab, but in Calle-Saari’s incarnation, they offer an array of colors and seem to honor domesticity — keeping a house and its contents clean and fresh for a family.
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At the far end of the gallery are small watercolor paintings that capture the aqua beauty of the island’s beaches.
Another side of the gallery is devoted to silkscreen monotype prints made with watercolors showing Antigua mothers and their children on beaches that, because of the pandemic, are almost empty. Here also are large (more than 7 feet tall) woodcut prints of Antigua women, including a hat seller carrying a stack of her wares, a woman wearing a backpack, another woman walking with her young daughter, and Calle-Saari’s daughter seated at a table.
The exhibit also includes small books of prints — pages filled with faces of people the artist knows.
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Calle-Saari, 53, whose art degrees are from Otterbein University and Ohio State University, is a core member of the Phoenix Rising Printmaking Cooperative and teaches at Ohio Dominican, Otterbein and Ohio Wesleyan universities.
During her time in Antigua, Calle-Saari stayed at her daughter’s rented house in a small village about 45 minutes from Antigua’s capital city of St. John’s.
Calle-Saari had to work around a daily curfew to snap photos of the images she wanted to recreate in her works and art supplies were not easy to come by. She snagged the only set of printmaking tools available at the hardware store and created her own printmaking materials from watercolor paints, rice paper and vinegar. Having arrived in Antigua with just one face mask, Calle-Saari cut up one of her bathing suits and made a few more.
The Antigua women were even more industrious and resourceful, she said, bearing “the weight of the world on their shoulders through the dusty streets of this resource-poor country.
“Every day, I saw women taking care of their children, walking in 90-degree weather to buy food, delivering meals, selling vegetables on the street. Simple, everyday tasks such as laundry, keeping a clean and healthy house became challenges with rolling power outages and market shortages.”
An originally scheduled, earlier exhibit by Calle-Saari at Wehrle Gallery was canceled due to the pandemic. When Janette Knowles, Wehrle Gallery director, saw the work that Calle-Saari was creating in Antigua, she said she knew that she had an exhibit she wanted to present.
“To me, this exhibit is about so much more than the work, which is gorgeous,” Knowles said. “The pandemic made everyone innovative. The island was shut down, but the women were still lugging laundry and taking care of the kids. And Eliana put together these beautiful prints and paintings.”
At a glance
“Women Carry the Weight of the World: Pandemic Work by Eliana Calle-Saari” continues through April 17 in Ohio Dominican University’s Wehrle Gallery, 1216 Sunbury Road. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Admission is free. Call 614-251-4612 or visit www.ohiodominican.edu.
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