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Where's the frame

Maribelle Bierens

March 6, 2023 7:48 PM


Loosely brushed images slowly melting into each other, Hettie Inniss shows us her memories in a spectacular colourful way. By questioning her own memories, she explores the ways it plays a role in how we construct identity. wtf? had the pleasure of visiting the artist in her studio at the RCA to dive into the complexities of the relationship between memory and identity.

Think of a place that you visited a long time ago. To what extent do you remember what it looks like? Do images appear clearly? Their sizes, shapes, colours, textures, smells, the sound? If a conversion took place, do you remember what was said? Can you trust your memories? 

In the context of identity, Hettie raises questions about whether we are aware of how much memory influences how we see ourselves and each other. In other words, she uses her awareness of the constructability of memories as a tool to look beyond identity in a binary way. 

Hettie Inniss’ studio at the Royal College of Art

“My work considers the concept of memory and uses it as a tool to navigate the complexities of identity within our growingly convoluted world. I am attracted to memory because of its formlessness, its capacity for perceived clarity, absence and ambiguity.” 

One of the reasons she’s drawn to using memory to do so is its unreliable nature. ‘It is not definitive, and it’s also about absences, what you don’t know and don’t remember,’ she explains how she’s ‘questioning how we look for truth in our memory because it’s unreliable.’ Therefore, she cannot ‘subscribe rules to myself or the way I paint.’ She engages in this less restricted state of mind to unconceal new ways of thinking. ‘This freedom is necessary to liberate myself from internalised binary ways of thinking about identity. The canvas becomes a space of ever-growing openness and an opportunity for understanding.’ 

This internalised binary way of thinking has been a result of her experience of having a dual heritage, her dad is from Barbados, and her mother is English. ‘The binary perceptions have been influenced by experience. I’ve been spoken to or treated as other, from growing up. I think that a lot of time, people internalise this, and it comes out in perceptions of identity.’ 

Hettie Inniss, Clawing At the Truth, oil on canvas - 160 x 170 cm

Taking one of her works in the studio right now, Clawing At the Truth, for example, you can recognise some tree-like shapes, some windows, and the loose outlines of a human figure. It’s a memory of the restaurant at the Tate. She shares how it was an ‘involuntary memory, walking through town, recalled a similar space and shape, it was an instantaneous thing.’ If she doesn’t remember the details, she doesn’t include them. ‘Otherwise, it would feel disingenuous. I was basing it entirely on how my mind was constructing it, rather than focusing on just the figure, the dimensions of the space, for example.’

Hettie Inniss in her studio

Thinking about these memories that take you somewhere else and remind you of something else again. But again, it’s constructed and partial. Not everything sticks, there is mediation, and other aspects, thoughts, and feelings might influence the memory during the formation. Thinking about the construction, thinking about the unclarity of it all, helps to show how much construction goes into a lot of it. ‘It grounds me to the spaces I occupy and allows me to query my understanding of myself from an individualistic standpoint. 'How are my experiences shaped by the requirements of society around me; how much of me is truly me?' These are questions I explore throughout paint.’

Close up of works in Hettie Inniss’ studio

In no way she’s introducing a restricted way of approaching identity. ‘it’s a choice in how you want to navigate these complexities, and it’s also a very individual one,’ she asserts. ‘I’m not telling people how they need to live their life; that’s far from what I’m trying to do; I’m just trying to articulate how I’m doing it.’ 

You can only come to the realisation that it’s unsettled, ideas about part of your identity can be unnecessarily restricted, and there is no definitive answer. But there is power in this realisation too. ‘I take comfort in knowing there is no answer because this is where my creativity truly thrives. It’s a much more exciting space for me.'

You can follow Hettie on Instagram and her website

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