Merissa Hylton: Interrogating and dissecting the many aspects of her own existence


Choosing to creatively explore her own perceptions of her disability, Merissa Hylton explores and experiments within a range of different media, grouped around specific themes and meanings inspired by Ghanaian Adinkra symbols.

Colourful sculptures representing Adinkra symbols

Adinkra sculptures – Ceramic stoneware

At its core, my work takes on some very personal themes. It interrogates and dissects the many aspects of my own existence, including my ancestry, emotions, self-acceptance and identity, as well as addressing issues such as disability and mental health. Often working in a variety of different mediums, I employ a similar methodology across all my creative projects and work with the principle that the spirit, energy and inspiration of the subject determine the materials and form of the piece.

As an artist living with Amniotic Band Syndrome, I’ve chosen to creatively explore my own perceptions of my disability and the ways in which I present it. I’ve documented my journey through pieces that look at my acceptance of my disability as well as the limitations I have encountered as a result of it – an ongoing work in progress that continues to unveil new ideas and challenge my attitude towards myself. My first full self-portrait came about as a result of much of this self-exploration. It was created out of a compulsion to express recent personal life changes. My aim was to create an image that unapologetically holds the viewers’ gaze and creates a sense of presence in whatever space it resides.

My Adinkra sculptures are inspired by Ghanaian Adinkra symbols, which are related to part of my West African ancestry and are simplified 3-dimensional representations of a select few of them. Adinkra Stories is a collection of ceramic sculptures that combine the proverbs and messages of five of the Adinkra symbols with the principles of the De Stijl art movement. Primary colours formed the basis of the De Stijl art movement which Piet Mondrian described as a “utopian perception of spiritual harmony.”

The paintings produced were purely abstract but differed from cubism and abstract expressionism in the sense that they were reduced to just the essentials of form & colour. I have been inspired by this principle and have used the same primary colours on the sculptures so as not to distract from the form and meaning of the Adinkra. In the same way their meanings form the basis for many of life lessons, the basic primary colours represent the basis of life’s other colours.

Each project often consists of multiple works, often explored and experimented with in a range of different media, grouped around specific themes and meanings. During my process of research and production I often come across new areas of interest which in turn, lead to new bodies of work.

The Adinkra symbols are a unique representation cultural expressions, concepts, values and traditional mythology of the Akan of Ghana and Gyaman of Ivory Coast. The Adinkra symbols represent popular proverbs and maxims, record historical events, express particular attitudes or behaviour related to depicted figures, or concepts uniquely related to abstract shapes. It is one of several traditional cloths produced in the region. There are more than 200 Adinkra symbols and meanings to each one of them.