Artist Ashley Inniss's mornings are pretty typical.
She wakes up, gets dressed, eats breakfast, and finds areas to sell her artwork. It’s a mundane routine for the young artist in historic Savannah.
However, unlike most, Inniss has to check twice as much as others to make sure that her clothes aren’t inside out. Cooking breakfast and dinner is limited, and finding a place to showcase her art and sell is usually easy when she knows her way around.
While it's not apparent immediately when meeting her, Savannah State alumna and artist Inniss is legally blind.
Many times in her life she’s been confronted by obstacles because of her poor eyesight. She’s unable to drive, and there aren’t many places that she can go to alone at night, descending stairs can be difficult, and knowing faces is trivial.
Yet, she never fails to face her challenges head on, and hasn’t turned one down yet. One of those challenges she faces now is her aspiration to become a fashion designer and continuing her profession as a visual artist.
Friend and roommate Deidra David, a fashion designer, has known Inniss for 13 years. She said she is still astonished with how well Inniss manages to get around in her condition.
“I’ve know Ashley since 2005,” David said. “I met her at Savannah State and have known her ever since. I’ve always kind of knew that she was blind, but I didn’t know at the time how severe it was. She’ll sometimes need help down the stairs or help avoiding certain objects that she can’t see. She won’t tell you so you’ll have to ask her. She’ll also ask you who you are if she can’t make out your voice and it’s not enough light for her to see.”
“It’s definitely something she’s learned to operate with,” David continued. “She knows how to ride bikes and manage to stay clear ofobjects. I don’t understand how because even when it’s really bright sometimes she still cannot see.”
Inniss has a condition called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). It’s a potentially blinding disease caused by abnormal scar tissue in the eyes. Inniss said that when she visited the doctor about her eyesight she was amazed at how bad it was and that she could even see at anything at all. About 90 percent of her eyesight is clouded by scar tissue.
“I can’t see pretty well,” Inniss said. “But how I can see is pretty cool though and how it still works out.”
Once she found out more about the condition, she researched ways on how it can be fixed and sought what technology can aid in making it better.
Throughout her journey with this condition, Inniss has continued to keep her faith that something would work out.
Inniss produces art frequently and though her eyes may limit certain abilities, she still uses her creative mind, determination, and faith to make the vision come alive.
“It’s kind of difficult sometimes,” she says. “In terms of color variations...sometimes it’s kind of hard for me to see. I have to be in sunlight.”
Inniss acknowledges the difficulties she faces with her eyesight, but she refuses to let them cripple her. She says the challenges she comes across and to her ability to overcome them.
She has hosted art classes at Hobby Lobby on Abercorn to not only teach art but to also inspire the students to cultivate their vision and what they want to bring to life through their art. Aside from the classes, she displays her artwork at recreational places like Forsyth Park where she is able to engage viewers and allow them to discover their own interpretation of the meaning behind the paintings.
“It’s amazing,” Kenyon Lewis, another close friend of Inniss, says. “What sticks out about Ashley is how her hearing and memory are advanced. She’s able to hear things sharper than you can imagine and her memory is great.”
“She’ll remember how many steps she has to take, where certain handles are to help her along the way…” Lewis said. “Her senses are enhanced. She’ll play the piano and I’ll ask her if she knows notes and she’ll tell me ‘no’ she hears by ear. Sometimes you won’t even know she can’t see until it’s dark and you realize ‘oh, wow, she really can’t see.’”
Inniss has set a goal for herself. She set her mind on becoming a professional fashion designer and artist, and she certainly isn’t going to let her eyes hinder her from reaching it. She’s currently enrolled as a student online at LIM college, a private institute for fashion and business, and is creating and displaying art pieces constantly in Forsyth Park for others to see.
Her latest artworks are displayed at a coffee shop called Glo’s Coffee Corner for a limited time, and will soon be on display at Savannah State University on Jan. 12 in the Social Science building.
“It’s an inspiration and it’s very encouraging to see this person with a disability that’s not disabling her,” Torihea Davenport, friend of Inniss, says. “Her art is beautiful not because of the paintings themselves, but because of the meanings behind them.”
Inniss continues to push pass her boundaries and limitations day-by-day, proving to many that nothing is impossible. She doesn’t let her disability disable her joy of accomplishing her dreams and goals and is determined to see them though.
“The fact that she cannot see yet is still able to be creative and have the meaning behind her art understood without words,” Davenport said. “It’s amazing. Her talent is so raw.”