Vrouwen (1980) Ro Heilbron

photo Otto Snoek
About the artwork

At the end of the 1970s, a number of Rotterdam artists had had enough of the drabness of the city and took action with lots of color. Artists were commissioned by the Rotterdam Art Foundation (RKS) to create large, colorful paintings in public spaces. During this project, titled Town painting, in 1980 one of the commissions went to the Surinamese artist Ro Heilbron. He painted a painting of eight women, from young to old, on one of the many Hofboogs under the train tracks. The women each have a different Surinamese background and are dressed in the corresponding costume or style. Heilbron painted the Surinamese flag in the background. To the right of this work the artist made a second painting, Surinamese hut (1980). During Keti Koti in 2015, BKOR paid special attention to Heilbron, who died in 2014, with an exhibition of his work in the windows of various shops on the West-Kruiskade and with an accompanying route map Tribute to an art worker (2015). In 2023, both paintings were thoroughly restored by Bruce Tsai-Meu-Chong of design agency Opperclaes. Opperclaes launched the project in the context of 150 years of colonial and slavery history Ro!Heilbron!, with the aim of honoring and preserving Heilbron's legacy.

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About the artist

Ro (Ronald) Heilbron (Paramaribo, Suriname, 1938 – Rotterdam, 2014) was a painter, graphic artist, activist and muralist. He grows up in a poor family. His parents have a mixed ethnic background, his father died when he was 8 years old. His talent for painting was already noticed at primary school. In his younger years he worked as an apprentice typesetter at various printing companies, eventually working as a typesetter and layoutist at the largest newspaper in Suriname. The True Time. He started painting in the early 1960s: colorful scenes from everyday life with a lot of attention to poverty and poor living conditions. In 1963 he had his first exhibition in Paramaribo. He uses a variety of techniques to convey his message, always a politically or socially committed statement. In 1970, Heilbron decided to settle in the Netherlands with his wife and children. He feels insecure due to the political instability in his homeland. In Rotterdam he finds work again at a printing company and in his spare time he takes up painting. A year later he had his first exhibition in Rotterdam, where he showed paintings in which poverty and despair in Suriname are the most important themes. Heilbron is a self-taught painter. He tried several times to receive training in Suriname, but he quickly became disappointed with the way of teaching. In 1973 he enrolled at the art academy in Rotterdam and trained in ceramic techniques. He also obtained a diploma in graphic techniques there. He subsequently had exhibitions in Rotterdam, Scheveningen and Amsterdam, as well as in Stockholm and Uppsala, Sweden. In 1975 he collaborated on a major exhibition about independence in Suriname. The bond between Heilbron and his homeland is clear from the subjects of his paintings: poverty, exploitation by the Dutch and domestic political unrest. Pollution from the aluminum industry is also a recurring theme in his work. From 1976 to 1983, Heilbron worked with his colleague Wim Gerritsen Gallery Solidair in the New West. Non-commercial artists can show their work there and there are regular performances by Surinamese performance artists. Heilbron has a small graphic workshop in the basement. In addition to his own work, Heilbron also produced a lot of applied graphic work on behalf of others: pamphlets, cards, calendars, magazine layouts, books, CD covers and also stage sets. He worked in oil paint (on canvas and panel) as well as with printing ink on canvas. In 1980 he made a series of six panels about independence and the major domestic political unrest in his homeland. “Combative art, that's what it's all about when you come from a country where injustice reigns", he says. In 1988 he painted the mural in the Jagthuisstraat in Delfshaven Don't give racism a chance. Later, in the 1990s, he concentrated more on the area where one of his daughters lives, the Caribbean. He wants to feel the warmth in his works and focus on the beautiful, exotic sides of South America. He also regularly stays in the Windward Antilles. At the end of his life he became fascinated by the art of the Mayan Indians, a part of his roots that had not yet been depicted by him. He made at least four large paintings in this style. In 2014, Ro Heilbron died in Rotterdam. For more than fifty years, his work testifies to his commitment to fellow human beings, his sense of history and his sense of beauty and symbolism.

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Insulindestraat 82, 3038 JB Rotterdam, Netherlands


Surinamese hut