The hold of history

Travelling back to the mother islands
by Catherine Fox
Visual Arts critic

"Walking on Water"
Through Aug. 15.
10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Tuesdays - Fridays;
1-5 p.m. Weekends.
Hammond Housed, 503 Peeples St. S.W.

The Verdict:
Two interesting artists from a rarely explored corner of the global village

        The African Diaspora is not limited to the route between Africa and the New World. The Bremen Jewish Heritage Museum chronicles the 20th century exodus of African Jews from Ethiopia. Hammonds House's "Trans Africa 98" exhibit features two artists of Afro-Caribbean heritage who live and work in the Netherlands.


Carrilho: We are going to Holland

        Nelson Carrilho and Ilene Themen represent the third generation of immigrants from islands that are former colonies of the Netherlands, now self-governing but still connected to the mother country. The artists are, then, twice removed from their origins.

        Carrilho, a sculptor, has made this multiple migration his subject. The exhibition includes several iterations of We are going  to Holland, created as part of the series called Fools Parade. One version consists of three bronze figures, one behind the other. The first is a fragment of a mask with Negroid features. It sits upon a two-wheel wagon. The middle figure is a regal, elongated figure-simultaneously reminiscent of African sculpture and Giacometti's - that towers over the other two. Behind him walks a strange hybrid of animal and human - one has a beak and a tail. In another take, its a fish with legs.

        These compositions are poetic symbols of travel, especially over water, and of hybrid culture. They are strikingly beautiful. Carrilho contrasts the smoothness of the mask with the rough, hand worked surface of other figures. He uses patinas as if they are a painter's palette, sea green, brown, black, gold.

        In other sculptures, Carrilho makes dramatic use of found objects. The central figure of "Going back home", is a mahogany-brown African sculpture bearing a golden apple, the Western symbol of knowledge and loss of innocence, on his head. He stands atop a wonderfully conceived green painted fish.

        While Carrilho purveys archetypal figures and grand themes in his work, Themen takes a more intimate approach in her mixed-media paintings. She portrays fragments of experience, observing the minutes of relationships and daily rituals. These are about moments, not millennia.

        Here is a world almost exclusively female. She creates elongated, abstracted figures described in black silhouettes on surfaces built up of layers of thin paper and overlayed with paint. Two pieces are painted in squares like quilts, a craft, she knew in her native Surinam. Each square is a patchwork of experiences.

        Most of the people in her work are black; their depiction suggests something of African art as well, but as we know, African art has been a pervasive influence on Western art since the late 19th century. What a tangled web we weave.

        Themen's works require patient attention to comprehend, and they are not equally successful. When they do work, its because her careful observation of body language and her use of a pleasing palette. If blacks and browns are Ieltmotiefs, Themen is not afraid to experiment with colour, often producing unexpected and appealing combinations.

        Together, this pair exemplifies both the hold of history and the different ways in which artists respond to it.




Contact Nelson Carrilho          






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