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Anita Alvin Nilert ’78 Puts Spotlight on Art and Human Rights

By Clare Cushman ’80
Inside the Spagnuolo Gallery at Georgetown University is a room with 150 bars of soap displayed neatly in rows. Each bears the face of an incarcerated man. They were created clandestinely by Jesse Krimes, who served six years for a nonviolent drug offense. While isolated for one year in a 23-hour lockdown cell, Krimes created “Purgatory,” portraits of offenders on prison-issued bars of soap, smuggled out in the mail hidden inside decks of playing cards. Co-sponsored by both the Art and Art History Department and the Law Center at Georgetown University, the exhibit effectively invokes the dehumanizing aspects of incarceration and criminal justice. Anita Alvin Nilert ’78 curated the show and held an art dialogue about it last February. It was the kickoff event for a series of art dialogues she is planning that will explore creative approaches to health and human rights issues.While Anita looks for artists who illuminate and convey a deeper understanding of specific human rights issues, she also finds it important that their work be captivating and not aggressive.

Her partner is childhood friend Alicia Ely Yamin, Director of the Health and Human Rights Initiative at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at the Georgetown Law Center. The duo’s next official art dialogue will be on November 8, 2017, with Wangechi Mutu, who focuses on maternal health and women’s issues in Africa, and it will also feature a screening of some of the Kenyan-born artist’s short video work/films. Also, in October, Anita will curate another Washington-based exhibit: a display of artworks for freedom at the European Union headquarters, which is sponsoring a month-long arts focus on raising awareness about modern day slavery and human trafficking.

Anita’s career has been influenced by several sources. She loved Spence and its values of liberal arts in the service to humanity. As a lifer, Anita said Spence gave her confidence and a sense of self. Her Swedish/Austrian mother, a scenic artist and costume designer, imparted her passion for art. Anita’s father, a Dane who worked in shipping, pushed her to acquire business skills. Accordingly, she graduated from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, minoring in Art History and Art. She set out to paint in the Canary Islands but ended up at Columbia for an M.B.A. After a stint in marketing, she became a dealer of contemporary art in New York.

Anita, who speaks seven languages including Swedish and Danish, moved to Stockholm in 1990 with her Swedish husband. There she developed a business as an art consultant to private collectors of contemporary art and as an editions publisher and artist’s agent. Now back in New York, Anita lives on the Upper East Side with her 94-year-old mother and has two grown children. For more information about her work, go to her websiteFor more on the “Purgatory” exhibit, click here and here. For information on her upcoming art dialogues at Georgetown, click here