“I survived through art.” A portrait of courage after a near-death experience
Aniek Nieuwenhuis is a portrait of resilience. Her life almost ended at the age of nine. During a camping holiday, a gas cylinder exploded, trapping Nieuwenhuis in a burning cabin. She suffered third-degree burns to 85 percent of her body. After more than 50 surgeries and a year off from school, Nieuwenhuis made an incredible recovery. But there was no denying that her life was irrevocably changed. To process her trauma, Nieuwenhuis turned to her creativity. “I kept my life and survived through art,” she says.
It was near impossible for Nieuwenhuis to express her experience in words. But through visual works, she could voice her journey. Fifteen years after the accident, Nieuwenhuis graduated with a degree in Fine Art from the University of Cape Town in 2019. Majoring in photography, her final thesis focuses on creativity as a form of therapy. “When I create I feel liberated,” she says. “I feel relieved.” Using a mix of materials from beeswax to ash, Nieuwenhuis transforms her childhood photographs and self-portraits into a medium that conveys her path of healing. The result is an encouragement to look beyond her scars.
“I hope people will see that no one has to be defined or limited by their trauma,” Nieuwenhuis says. From the depths of her experience, these creations have become a tool for understanding and compassion. Nieuwenhuis pays testament to her survival through her distinct visual language. Even in moments of despair, she has fought – to take back her body, define herself on her own terms, and live with courage. Viewing Nieuwenhuis’ work, her message is clear: the value of life isn’t skin deep. It’s the humanity within us all.