Artist opens up about burn trauma: ‘There’s a person behind the scars’ by Ross Michaels

It’s been 15 years since Aniek Nieuwenhuis’ life changed forever in the blink of an eye.

Aniek, a child at the time, and her family had been holidaying near Kleinmond in the Western Cape in March 2004 when a faulty connection on a gas cylinder sparked a fire. Aniek suffered 95% burns while her dad, Paul, suffered 40%.

Though doctors gave her just a 20% chance of survival, today she’s a self-confident young woman who doesn’t let the scars on her face determine her outlook. 

Now, she’s using her artistic talent to tell the story of her trauma. Her exhibition Skin Deep is on at Gallery One11 in Cape Town until 9 March.

“My message is that there’s a normal person behind the scars. 

There’s a normal young woman who’d lived through a tough time, and that one should look past it or find a way to see through it,” says Aniek (23), who graduated with a degree in visual arts from UCT’s Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2017. 

Aniek uses self-representation in her photographic art and explains her work is an outlet for emotions she used to suppress.

“I want to make people aware of the challenges – how hard it is to walk around knowing you look different to other people and you don’t know how others will react. I want to provide insight into trauma and hope, and inspire people,” the young artist says.

German artist SaySay.Love (56), who’s presenting the exhibition, decided to collaborate with Aniek because he feels there’s a special synergy between his art and hers.

“The images I’ve created for this project come from a raw place,” says Say Say.Love, who was born without the ability to see in 3D and is partially blind in his right eye.

The project is an exploration of “the uncanny valley separating the visceral experience and the unbridled expression of our innermost fears and desires”, he says. 

“Aniek’s ability in expressing herself through deep alchemical dreaming shines through in her art.”

The proceeds from SaySay.Love’s artworks at Skin Deep will be donated to the Make A Difference (MAD) Leadership Foundation, thanks to whose scholarship Aniek was able to study at UCT. 

Written by Ross Michaels for News 24