World Artists and their Story, 22 - Nelson Carrilho

During the Open Studios Jordaan weekend I saw in the Tuinstraat the studio of Nelson Carrilho. It was full of large and small bronze sculptures of people and animals. The first thing I noticed were the horses. At the back was the workplace.

A few weeks later I’m back. Nelson Carrilho has been an artist over 35 years. “As a child I went around the world. I came here at the age of 11, from Curaçao, one of the many places where Dutch colonialism left behind deep scars.” When he looks back on his work over the years, he sees two threads: sculptures with a critical undertone, about injustice. But also sculptures, sometimes the same, which have the intention to be a bridge between different cultures.   

Dig deep

He found different themes to work on. Nelson: “Sometimes I didn’t quite understand a certain subject. I did think about it, looked into my subconcious, layer by layer. The roots of some subjects go so deep. But I dug deep into myself, and took things up. You experience finally a kind of healing, you can put things on a higher place, as it were.”

Asked about a key work he points to three. Starting with Mother Rock, Mama Baranka. “In memory of Kerwin Duinmeyer, an Antillian boy, murdered in 1983, I was assigned to make a sculpture to remember him. Everyone thought that I would make an image of Kerwin, but I chose to depict Mama Baranka, Mother Rock. Mother Rock is a symbol of strength and intransigence. In the West Indies a strong woman is called Mama Baranka (baranka = rock). You thus portray the power of all women. Mother Rock is similar to the goddess Mother Earth in other cultures. As Curaçao consists of rock , it has become Mother Rock.”

The statue stands in a prominent place in the Vondelpark. “I got only two month for such an important work. It was my first monumental work. The process has just gone well. It has been an important process. A lot of people enjoy the statue. I can at any time enter the park to enjoy. I still get a lot of comments.”

The horse

The second key work is called Carriers from Afar. It’s in the Westerpark. “It shows that everyone has brought cultural wealth, wherever he or she comes from or goes to. And everyone can express that. It is connective sculpture par excellence in which cultures meet each other from their strength.”

And finally, the Horse. “The horse sculpture is part of the classical art history.  There have been already many horses made, for thousands of years. It’s hard to add anything to the palette. When the assigment came, I made various studies. I decided to make an open horse. With openness you add something. You move the focus from the exterior, the shape, to the inside, your inner self. You and the horse become thus part of the area. The horse is in Retie, in Belgium, a real horse region. If I wanted to put a horse there, it should be a good horse.”

However, he had to go deep. He had always seen horses, but never really looked at them. “But I can not stay in my comfort zone. I do a lot of commissions and must often push my boundaries.”

The bird

Nelson Carrilho followed the Utrecht Academy Artibus from 1977 to 1980. How does he experience the life of an artist? “It’s an uncertain life, you never know exactly what your income is. This could be solved by making serial things. If you choose this, you better stop. Life is also an art. An artist’s life also means that you connect with your surroundings, giving you a way of life in which everything fits together so that everything goes as it should go.”

He clarifies this with the story of the bird. “If I, from an ego-feeling, put a bird in a cage, is it still a bird? As for the bird it’s about the freedom he has. And you deprive him of that freedom if you put him in a cage. Thus, it is also in art. Art is what can not be named. We, artists, plant seeds, make things grow. In addition, we embrace totality. If I’m going to make a horse, I have to embrace the horse, feel the horse, understand the horse, with all the senses. I become the horse. If I’m going to have it named, then I loose the essence. Then we are back at the bird in the cage. Buts some people only understand something if they can name it, if it is caught. As an artist, you play with it, of course.”


1) At work, 2) detail Carriers from Afar, 3) detail Fools Parade, 4) detail Mother Rock, 5) Carriers from Afar, 1989, Westerpark, 6) Fools Parade, 1998, 7) Identity, Who cares , 1999, 8) Kerwin monument, Mother Rock, Vondelpark, 1984, 9) Mattheus Passion, 2013, 10) Horse at Retie, 11) Railroad to heaven, 2006, 12) Waiting for God, 2000, 13) Warchild, 2009, 14) Waterlooplein with Mother 


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