Nepal earthquake in art

Erna Anema is a Dutch artist who has painted landscapes, worked with copper, and created digitally. A professor of art at Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, she credits Nepal with having inspired the artist in her. She is currently in Kathmandu with her students for a collaborative project with the Kathmandu University School of Arts. An collaborative exhibit of her work titled Earthquake Blue: 53 seconds , 5 years later, is on display at Siddhartha Art Gallery in Baber Mahal Revisited 14-17 February. The students’ work will be exhibited under the same title once it is complete in March. Anema spoke with Nepali Times this week about the exhibit, the collaboration with local artists, and her love for Nepal.

Nepali Times: What role has Nepal played in your development as an artist?

Erna Anema: I have always loved Nepal and I have been coming to this country for over 40 years now. I saw a documentary about Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Mt Everest as a child and decided then that I would grow up and travel to Nepal. I trekked around Nepal and started off as a mountain landscape painter. Nepal really inspires the artist in me and I have returned time and again. I even had a short stint of teaching arts at Nepal Arts Academy and managed to exhibit my first project at Siddhartha Art Gallery in 1996. The culture, heritage and art work is so versatile here that the more you explore, the more there is to learn.

The 53 seconds, 5 years later exhibition depicts the 2015 earthquake. How did the idea come about?

This is a collaborative project with my peers Ellert Haitjema and Renate Schwarz. In 2016, the year after the earthquake, I travelled to Helambu for a trek. Walking around I could sense the pain the residents must have suffered. Window frames were laid together with window frames, pillars with pillars.

There was a certain order in the disorder, even in villages where there was only one house left. There were several storylines in the many hundreds of photos I took. The idea was initially unclear, but with the help of Renate, we stuck with Earthquake Blue and it went on display in Amsterdam in 2018.

Why Earthquake Blue?

When I was in Helambu, everywhere I walked I saw the blue colour, either the blue plastic covers wrapped to create a makeshift home or to cover the debris, or the blue sky. In the hundreds of pictures I took, blue was the most prominent colour. The Earthquake Blue exhibition started in Amsterdam and this is the first time it will be on display in Kathmandu.

How different will the display be in Kathmandu?

While Earthquake Blue in Amsterdam was a solo exhibition, 53 seconds, 5 years later is a collaboration between 20 students each from Reitveld Academy and Kathmandu University of School of Arts. The Nepali and Dutch students will work in pairs with a starting point of where the Nepali students were during those 53 seconds of earthquake. The project is a month long and I am looking forward to seeing the results. Their work will be on display by March 6.

Also, Renate and Ellert’s work will be exhibited for the same duration as my work, and they  present visual stories of the contradictions we encountered, the destruction and at the same time the indestructible life.

What has been your experience of collaborating with Kathmandu University?

This isn’t the first time we have collaborated with Kathmandu University, but this year’s project is really special. Working with the department head Sujan Chitrakar has been an honour. The ideas that have stemmed from there are amazing and have helped both groups of art students to learn from one another. I hope we can have more collaboration in the future too.

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