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Julie Bonzon’s favorite – Pippa Hetherington


Bringing a postcolonial discourse to France: “Inheritance” by Pippa Hetherington

The exhibition ‘Inheritance’, presents visual artist Pippa Hetherington’s work for the first time in France, at Bonne Espérance Gallery. “Inheritance” offers visitors the opportunity to revisit and understand part of South Africa’s colonial past in a sensitive, intimate and personal way.

As the artist explains, “it felt important to decentralise my white female South African experience and tell my story to a European audience with no feelings of resolve or solutions, just to say it as it is – trauma, history and memory unedited.” The exhibit installation, created by Hetherington and German curator Nisha Merit, features textile works floating against the exhibition walls, cut-out photographs, interwoven fibers and hanging dolls, visually evoking the work of memory. Hetherington sews and weaves. “You are supposed to see the scars and you are supposed to see the distortions” comments Merit. To perfect this result, the artist weaves together diverse and surprising materials and techniques, such as rock pigment, lattice work, and embroidery. The images presented come from the artist’s personal family corpus, drawn from family albums and everyday domestic settings. As a starting point for her work, Hetherington looks to her family’s history and socio-cultural heritage. Her family’s roots go back to the 1820 English settlers, whose arrival in South Africa led to tensions and then wars with the local population, already violated by years of colonization, the repercussions of which are still felt today. By presenting personal images in a public setting, and transforming their materiality, the artist invites visitors to question their own history.

In the gallery, the interplay of gazes and a tactile approach to photography provide a sensory experience of the past, the territory and the frontiers beyond the confines of the photographic frame. Strong, powerful women of all ages and social and ethnic backgrounds face the viewer. Artists, friends, colleagues, they are all part of Hetherington’s entourage, for whom collaboration, human relationships and solidarity are central issues in her practice. Exhibited at Bonne Espérance Gallery, these works interrogate history, the spoken and the unspoken, comfort and discomfort, and bring a postcolonial and feminist discourse to Parisian soil. As gallery director Scott Billy points out: ‘the history of French colonialism until very recently was presented as a triumph. Hetherington allows one to think about the different sides of the story.’ Despite their geographic distance, the artist’s images weave strong intellectual links between South African history and the French colonial past.

Hetherington’s work decompartmentalizes photography’s documentary function and its link to reality, to give us a glimpse of the medium’s limits in immortalizing, bearing witness and making history. With memory and trauma and history there is both beauty and distress. Cutting, transforming and re-making can become part of healing and recognising the emergence of the new’, explains the artist. Her organic works, composed of fragments and textiles, cut and sewn together again, show us what was captured on film and evoke what remains erased, forgotten or taboo, opening the door to alternative, restorative stories.


Julie Bonzon

12 July 2023

Julie Bonzon is an independent curator specialising in photography. In 2020 she founded the Photographic Collective, of which Pippa Hetherington is a member.

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