Credits: Roberto Ruiz
Letters to an imaginary friend
Han Nefkens (b. Rotterdam, 1954) studied communication in France and the United States, then worked for eleven years as a radio correspondent in Mexico City.
In 1987, when he discovered he was HIV positive, he decided to concentrate on what he always wanted to do: writing. The first result was Bloedverwanten (Ties that bind 1995), a semi-autobiographical novel about two brothers both infected with the AIDS virus.
This was followed by articles in NRC Handelsblad and a collection of short pieces, Two Empty Chairs (2005).
In late 2001, Nefkens, by then living in Barcelona, became seriously ill with a highly dangerous infection in his brain caused by HIV. He survived, but he had to learn to eat, walk, speak, read, and write all over again. The book This Bird Has Flown: Notes on a Recovered Life (2008), is a penetrating report of that lengthy recovery process.
Over the years Nefkens has written “vignettes” about numerous subjects including art, his struggle with HIV and his travels around the world.
In addition to writing, Nefkens is also an art collector and patron of the arts. What started in 2001 with the purchase of a video installation by Pipilotti Rist has grown into a collection of contemporary art consisting of photographs, videos, installations and paintings by Jeff Wall, Roni Horn, Bill Viola, Shirin Neshat, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and others.
The more than five hundred works are striking for their tranquil, restrained power and poetic ambiguity. They are lent as “promised gifts” to several museums in the Netherlands including the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Museum de Pont, Huis Marseille, and the Rijksmuseum.
For the catalogue of a Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum exhibition in 2011 on his first ten years as an art patron, Nefkens wrote a number of reflections on his art.
In 2006 Nefkens established the Han Nefkens Foundation that now focuses exclusively on supporting emerging international video artists through Awards, Production Grants, and Mentorship Grants.
The Foundation collaborates with art institutions worldwide that show the works it produces: www.hnfoundation.com.
The thread running through all his activities is a strong desire to share.
Nefkens says, “Giving is one of the most underrated values in society. By setting up something that I can share with others, I open myself up to the world.
I can’t imagine anything more enriching than that.”