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There is something captivating about Marjan Verstappen’s work – even if at first you aren’t quite sure what it is you are looking at.

Born in Ashburton, she completed a Bachelor of Fine Art in Sculpture from Dunedin School of Art before moving to Canada in 2012 to further her studies, graduating from Ontario College of Art and Design University with a Master in Fine Arts in 2014.

Toronto is still her home today where alongside working as an artist she is the co-director of Younger Than Beyoncé (YTB), a nomadic DIY gallery for emergent and experimental art practices.

Working across a multitude of mediums to tell a story, Marjan has forged a successful career on the international scene, yet was delighted to be invited to exhibit at home in Ashburton. ‘It feels so good to have the support of the Ashburton Art Gallery and Creative NZ,’ she shares, ‘and to be welcomed home with such enthusiasm and warmth. This is a show that has been over 18 months in the planning and I couldn’t wait to see how people would respond to it.’

Shirin Khosraviani, Ashburton Art Gallery Curator comments, ‘Marjan’s practice sits at the intersection of multiple disciplines, such as photography, drawing and sculpture. She connects her visual language with narrative and historical milestones.’

The response so far has been incredibly positive with her collection, Atlas of Nowhere, exploring local conservation issues. ‘I grew up in Mayfield surrounded by plants and fascinated by how ecosystems change and behave. How you could travel just down the road [to Mt Peel] and experience a totally different ecosystem. When we [Europeans] came to this area we brought our whole ecosystem with us, we didn’t want to adapt to what was here, we just wanted to keep living like we had in Europe. The impact of that has been devastating for Māori and for the ecosystem.

‘There isn’t a lot on record of what our land looked like prior to colonisation, or even what our land looked like just a few years ago,’ Marjan continues. ‘I want people to realise how little we know and how little we remember of the changing landscape. Why do we put so little energy into remembering?’

Forcing us to ask ourselves what is important when it comes to our local surrounds and how we contribute to conservation has opened up conversations about the value we place on land.

Atlas of Nowhere speaks of the relationship between mass extinction and the colonial mindset,’ explains Shirin. ‘It explores concepts of mystery and truth with Marjan’s research drawn from the archives in Mid Canterbury. Sculptures, drawings and journals have been brought together in an installation which reflects a new and alternative narrative of our local history.’

With the aim to tell a story through her art practice, the exhibition not only tells the story of where we have come from, but is forcing us to think about where we are heading. ‘We are experiencing a slow motion ecological disaster,’ Marjan concludes. ‘We won’t see what we’ve done to our environment, but our grandchildren will live with the consequences.’

Atlas of Nowhere is being exhibited at the Ashburton Art Gallery until 16 August 2019. For more information, visit ashburtonartgallery.org.nz

WORDS Lucinda Diack