In 1867, at the age of thirteen, Elisabeth Moendi departed Calcutta for Suriname as an indentured laborer. She married a descendant of the country’s original inhabitants. Moendi and her daughter Henriette were exhibited in Amsterdam at the world’s fair in 1883. After discovering that Elisabeth Moendi was his great-grandmother, Amsterdam-based artist Nelson Carrilho made this altar for her. The statue in the center, inspired by African forms, has a cross in its head. It symbolizes how Africans’ selfhood was destroyed by slavery and colonialism. With this acknowledgement also comes liberation.
“Dancing is sculpting and sculpting is dancing.” – Nelson Carrilho
Before the Golden Coach was hoisted into the Amsterdam Museum, sculptor Nelson Carrilho consecrated the courtyard with an African ritual dance, the “Dance of Creation.” The performance is a traditional choreography that navigates between myths of creation and destruction. The dancer undergoes a metamorphosis between the mother—who represents creation—and the son. At first, the son represents destruction, but in the course of his development he later returns to the mother to nestle in the womb once more. In this way he attains a higher state of consciousness and becomes a source for new creation and reflection.
*With thanks to filmmaker Robin van Erven Dorens for the production and direction of this film. *
Nelson Carrilho (Willemstad, Curaçao 1953) has worked as a sculptor for over 30 years. His bronze statues are found in many places in the Netherlands and Curaçao, and his work reflects a social commitment. Famous among these is Mama Baranka in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam, which he made in 1984 in memory of Kerwin Duinmeijer, victim of a racially motivated murder.