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Poets Printery

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Niek Hiemstra – Challenging Arts, Challenging Medicine

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A retrospective of Niek Hiemstra’s work was on view at the Ann Bryant Art Gallery, East London. The exhibition opened on the 25 March, when I went to see his work.
I never knew Niek personally but we did meet at various exhibitions held at the Ann Bryant Gallery in East London. He came with oxygen support and looked happy in the environs of art and aesthetics. He passed away of lung related disease in 2013
When I walked around looking at his water colors, acrylics, chalk works and pen and ink drawings, I was struck by the topics he chose to draw. There was an immediate connection; his works portrayed the common man and surroundings where he had lived. A certain artist even told me that each of his art has something missing but then I realized imperfection is in itself the true art, Niek from his humble Dutch beginnings imbibed the master’s stroke of imagination and creativity. Bright landscapes, impasto brush work, light and shade compositions took my breath away. But there was more to come. His portrait works were displayed on the first floor.
Its these portraits that make me write today. Helpless as these patients lay on their hospital beds, Niek’s brush brought a possible glint in their eyes. His self portrait in Ward 33 shows an edematous face gasping for breath from the oxygen mask. The coils of oxygen tubing that he neatly drew challenged and humbled contemporary medical science. The fine art of healing pathology remains garbled at times and so are our ethos and ethics that bears the brunt of such indomitable challenges. The sharpness of a glass mirror reflects the chiaroscuro of many such dreams that we share with the creativity of a visual artist. Art, Artist and the Healer share a common galaxy of creativity and skills but each in their own way continue to be symbiotic to the other.
In times as these, rare as it may be, an artist like Niek Hiemstra arose not only to challenge medical science with all its disparities and disproportions but even in his own love of visual arts, he strikes with an equal brunt force. The shadows at the corner of one’s eye turn violent. Niek Hiemstra rejoiced in the violence of such colors, such living.
In the passing away of Niek, medical science lost an unknown immortal, in the galaxies of visual art, we have one more star.
As a dedication to the famous Dutch artist Breitner, It is said that when streets of Amsterdam are grey and rainy, people of Amsterdam whisper grimly, ‘Echt Breitnerweer’ (Typical Breitner weather). I believe too, as a homage to Netherlands born Niek Hiemstra and his inexhaustive passion for life and arts, East Londoners of South Africa, may also say, ‘Echt Niekweer’ to a stormy weather in East London.

Amitabh Mitra is a poet, artist and a medical doctor based at East London, South Africa. He heads the Department of Emergency Medicine at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane.


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