In combining various art mediums with her own personal philosophy, Italian and Dutch artist Marta Nijhuis demonstrated Monday night at the University of Rhode Island, how the phases of our own philosophy mature, reflect onto the world and rightfully, back onto ourselves.

Marta Nijhuis talks to University of Rhode Island students about the intermingling of art and philosophy - Credit: Megan Phelps/The Good 5 Cent Cigar
Marta Nijhuis talks to University of Rhode Island students about the intermingling of art and philosophy – Credit: Megan Phelps/The Good 5 Cent Cigar

“These two things [art and philosophy] are quite related, one unto the other, because in fact, the theoretical reflection to me is fundamental, to feed the art path,” Nijhuis said. “I chose to study philosophy after art college because I needed to have a theoretical feed to my work. It allows me to unfold all of these philosophical complex problems… to really have such a relation to people and problems that really helps me… to transpose the thought into images.”

Nijhuis’s love for art started at a young age. When she was 6 years old, Nijhuis travelled to Holland from Italy to meet her “granddad” for the first time. Her grandfather was a drawer himself and since Nijhuis did not speak Dutch, the two would communicate back and forth to each other through drawing. One time, Nijhuis recalls asking her father, “‘Does grandpa get paid for the drawings he does?’ and he said, ‘Yeah,’ and so I said, ‘Okay, I want to do the same job.’”

Fast-forward to the present day and Nijhuis’ work has been featured in numerous art galleries such as the Cappelletti Gallery in Milan and the Correggiari Foundation for Telethon Italia in Bari. Nijhuis was also a finalist in receiving an international award for her art.

Some of her pieces such as “Waterworks 2013” combine photography and painting. Photos taken during a 2009 trip to Spain of moving bodies of water were what struck a chord with Nijhuis and consequently sent her down a path, following the theme of reflection and mirrors.

It was not until an exhibition where Nijhuis got, “a chance to see the work I’ve been doing for over the past 10 years that… (I realized) in order to evolve, I had to turn the mirror towards myself.”

This thought is what spurred Nijhuis to create the works surrounding “cultural memories”. Starting with her grandfather, Nijhuis went back and dedicated a portion of her time to artwork involving the friendship between an old man and a little girl. Next, she worked with the idea of telling “ordinary people’s extraordinary stories.” In doing so, Nijhuis spent a lot of time writing about one particular barber in Italy and highlighting his life with the use of 3D photography.

At the end of the lecture, the thought of reflections and mirror images were at forefront of the discussion, as a student inquired about the so-called, “age of selfies.”

“[Selfies] are an extraordinary phenomenon, evidently,” said Nijhuis. “What I find amazing, is that you used to see girls on the train mirroring themselves in the black screen… but now to see if they are okay, they’ll just take a selfie. That is quite intriguing because that means that it is not the image of our self that we see, that interests us, but really, the image that the others see of ourselves that is interesting to us. We’re not really into what we see of ourselves… all that matters is what the others think of ourselves. Even we start seeing the ‘selfie’ as a way to check if we are okay for the others.”

As far as advice goes for someone trying to find what they are most passionate about, Nijhuis says, “If you ask yourself, ‘Can I stop,’ in this case, ‘writing?’ and you say to yourself, ‘No I’d rather die,’ then that means you really need to do that. And that’s my case with art. Basically I never stop drawing. You start drawing when you’re a child, and I just never stopped.”