Postpartum expression

This year’s Best of Show artwork in Ocala’s “Metamorphosis” Emerging Artist Exhibition explores the post-birth experience for women.

Home » Arts & Entertainment
Posted April 28, 2023 | By Julie Garisto

Olimpia Cantillano, winner of Best of Show in the “Metamorphosis” Student and Emerging Artist Exhibition, holds her work “Motherhood Garden #1,” acrylic and soft pastels on mixed media paper, 11”x14”

Each year the city of Ocala hosts the Emerging Artist Exhibition to honor exceptional work by local creatives, and this year’s Best of Show winner is a compelling abstract piece that embodies the exploration of birth and postpartum depression. 

The digital print titled “Parturition Portal” by Olimpia Cantillano is part of the artist’s “Postpartum” series; poignantly apt in a juried exhibition titled “Metamorphosis,” co-presented by the city and the Magnolia Arts Xchange arts incubator.

Indeed, nothing suggests a transformation quite like childbirth, and Cantillano’s “Parturition Portal” conveys the inner volcanic eruption that goes with bringing a new life into the world.

“I created the ‘Postpartum’ series and ‘Parturition Portal’ to express my own journey with postpartum,” said the 26-year-old mother of son Arthur, 2, and daughter Sage, 4, months.  

“I was trying to communicate a message about the act of giving birth, the process for all women and my process, specifically,” Cantillano said. “I also wanted the work to be a conversation starter because I feel like postpartum is sort of a taboo topic or theme even in today’s society. A lot of women feel alone in their journey.”

Red dominates Cantillano’s winning piece, and she associates red and other warm tones with a woman’s pelvic energy source and how it radiates in the body, using Hindu chakras to reference that energy flow. 

“I associate the vagina and the lower pelvic area, the reproduction area of the woman, the vulva, with warm colors because I think of the lower chakras. So, the root chakra is the one that starts right there. Your pelvic bone is associated with the color red. If you go up one chakra, it’s orange, and one more, it’s yellow…. But when it comes to color, honestly, it’s all very intuitive.”

Cantillano, 26, graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in visual art from Miami International University of Art and Design in December 2021. Her parents were born in Nicaragua, and she’s firmly rooted in the culture’s close family traditions and the indigenous spirituality of the Central American nation, which she has visited and says plays a major role in shaping her identity. 

“Submerged in Exhaustion”
By Olimpia Cantillano, 2021
Digital, 44” x44,” part of the “Postpartum” series

After living back and forth between Miami, where she was born, and Marion County, Cantillano, with her husband, Richard Parrales, who lived in this area when they met and also is of Nicaraguan descent, now live in Silver Springs Shores.

In art school, Cantillano gravitated to digital media because it allowed more freedom for her to explore colors and imagery that convey emotions and ideas. 

“I like digital work because I like to work in layers,” she said. 

“Parturition Portal”
Digital print by Olimpia Cantillano, winner of Best of Show in the Emerging Artist Exhibition

Cantillano often creates work in other media, too, which can be seen on her Instagram page, @artandsage, named in honor of her children.

She is deeply interested in art therapy and wants to use her work to help others after her infant daughter gets a little older and she can leave the house more often. 

She said her postpartum depression came on hard due to a lack of knowledge and being a first-time mother, and other factors such as “not being able to breastfeed, the consumption of overwhelming exhaustion and the loss of self-identity and I had to learn and put into practice healthy coping mechanisms in order to recover. 

“The more I exposed postpartum, the more I spoke to women about it, I came to realize that it wasn’t really just for me, it was for all women out there,” Cantillano said. “I’ve spoken to a variety of women who are going through their postpartum experience right now and women whose children are grown up and married or off to college and whatnot. Though we’ve all gone through our own journey, we have more in common than you’d think.”

“Joining Ancient Mothers”
By Olimpia Cantillano, 2021
Digital, 44” x44,” part of the “Postpartum” series

The inability to breastfeed and the exhaustion she experienced deeply affected the artist when her son was born, so, in addition to hormonal changes already wreaking havoc, she had to cope with feelings of shame and inadequacy brought on by societal expectations and a lack of education on what happens after childbirth.

“When I was preparing to give birth to my son, I read books, and there’s a lot of books out there that’ll tell you what to expect when you’re pregnant and how to prepare for birth,” Cantillano recalled. “I actually attended birthing classes with Advent Hospital, and they’ll tell you should expect X, Y, and Z, and there’s all this information on before and during, but there’s nothing out there on after.”

She said she’s going through her second postpartum with her daughter now, and it’s completely different. 

“I wouldn’t say it’s less severe,” she explained. “I would say it’s different. In the sense that I am more knowledgeable this time around, and, therefore, I am aware of signs and have established good coping mechanisms. Art being one of them. …We need to shed a light on this and honor women and let them know that we’re not alone in this journey.” 

“Metamorphosis” will be on display through Oct. 12 at Ocala’s City Hall, at 110 SE Watula Ave. Email for more information.

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