Califia ~ 15th & Capitol

“Califia, the Amazon-like Queen of the mythical island, Califia, after which California was named…. She is a spirit of cleansing, mending, and healing. She is Yemaja, an African Diaspora deity who is the mother of all waters and the spirit of patient creativity.”

A beautiful description by artist, Alison Sarr, of the striking figure of Califia which stands in the foyer of the state building at 15th & Capitol.

The Art:

She is carved from wood and covered in oxidized copper. Califia herself stands about 6′ tall and with about 7′ of bundles on her head, the entire sculpture is nearly 14′ (1).

Susan Shelton also created a piece inspired by Queen Califia and, although it is a different piece entirely, her description of the piece resonates with my experience of Saar’s:

I see Califia [as]… encompassing powerful and enduring symbols for us as Californians—Abundance; Strength; Life; Beauty; Diversity, Stewardship–and I was inspired to create a piece that would be an expression of my love of California, and a tribute to the mythical Queen who graced our state with her name [and her blessings]…. Implicit in the celebration of these gifts, I think, is the admonishment for Stewardship. Queen Califia calls on us to nurture and protect our extraordinary California.(2)

The Artist:

Saar grew up in the LA area in a family full of art; her mother is a well-known artist, her father an art conservator, and her sisters are all artists (3). Her work is often highly personal, a critic once called her work ‘banal’ and in this video, she agrees with the critique saying that she is a mom and drives a van and her work often speaks to what she is struggling with in life, but, she says, “that doesn’t mean that we who are banal can’t have really truthful and wonderful experiences”. This quote by art critic Rebecca Epstein describes the nature of Saar’s work:

“Saar juggles themes of personal and cultural identity as she fashions various sizes of female bodies (often her own) that are buoyant with story while solid in stance. [Her works often embody a] balance of strength and tenderness, in form and idea.” (4)

Title: Califia
Artist: Alison Saar
Date: 2003
Media: Wood and Copper
Location: 1500 Capitol (inside the foyer)

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