Since Igshaan Adams has been announced Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year, his work is even more prominent in his native South Africa. With an exhibition that highlights his approaches towards performance, weaving, sculpture, and installation he currently red-flags issues around race, religion, and sexuality. In “When Dust Settles” his perspective as a gay liberal Muslim reflects the complex situation of so many in the country who experience marginalization on a daily basis.
Igshaan Adams won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award 2018. Currently his body of work is touring the country and was exhibited at the South African National Gallery. When Dust Settles is a collection of works that continue the tapestry motif of his work, a recurring theme encompassing the entire exhibition. An exhibition that continues to explore issues of colored identity and religion by incorporating the Muslim practice of Wudu as symbolic for a sense of purity and self-realization that comes with interacting with one’s environment.
Anchored by a strong spiritual aspect, Adams’ work delves into the fringes of collective discourse by subsuming what is symbolic about daily life and translating that into the exhibition space. This can be discerned in the curatorial choice to inundate the gallery space with vinyl flooring, which covers not only the floor but also the walls and some of the ceiling. Vinyl flooring is a staple in low-income and working class communities in South Africa, a strategy that adds a facility for cleanliness and purity. So in the exhibition it operates as a narrative foundation for what is static about the personal histories and lived experiences of the communities Adams’ work discourses.
For one this is reflected in the visceral drama of a piece titled Cling, which is a symbolic example of the disintegration that ensues in the lived experiences of working class communities. Comprised of old wash cloths, aluminum washing line, curtain, steel rods and rope, it is a piece about the accumulation of a lived collective experience. In relation to the vinyl flooring it articulates the measure in which this experience can result in its own putrefaction.
For the first time Adams includes a self-portrait in an exhibition, comprised of cotton thread and a found blanket. What is existential becomes imbued with its isolated and tormented character. A character that is threaded into the blanket to highlight a trace of personal development through an anguish that is necessary to cleanse in order to experience catharsis. Anchoring the themes of this exhibition are the values of cleanliness and purity in relation to collective consciousness in a strategy that seems somewhat sentimental. And yet, one should be willing to examine the underlying discourse about how the history of oppression is still clinging to the lived experiences of the community that Adams originates from.
His work and its evolution can be traced not just for its conceptual implications. One can also discern how the eclectic nature of tapestry is imbued with its own auto-referential aesthetic. In Adams’ previous exhibitions Oorskot or Al Latif the contained and amalgamated strategy of his sculptures can be discerned in developing into the more bolder and expanded structure of When Dust Settles. This is especially reflected in a piece titled Crawl, which is made of contorted garden fencing and cotton twine: the theme of personal boundaries becomes articulated in its limitations. Adams’ strategy to make the sculptures expresses an aspect of individual identity that relates to accumulating experience.
Another piece, titled Search, is curated like a chandelier. The rope beneath the suspended tapestry chandelier articulates how domestic experiences in working class communities are bound by contemporary influences. It not only represents what is symbolic about resting at home, but beneath the chandelier it expresses the activity of accumulated experience itself.
This is also reflected in the use of color, white cotton thread for a collection of sculptures operating in a symbiotic way to express how shared experience is bound in individuals. In previous exhibitions with the gallery, for instance in Oorskot and Al Latif, the eclectic function of a multi-colored sculpture expressed how individuality comes to terms with spirituality as a universal mechanism and how excess can be symbolic of what can be discarded in relation to abundance.
In this latest body of work, all these themes coalesce to express a measure of experience that is collective and historic, accumulated and disintegrating. The poetic sense in Adams’ works relies on the material utilized to execute them. The material has a relationship with both the artist and the environment it came from, which reflects how it has carefully been collected or cared for to now amalgamate within this exhibition.
Igshaan Adams was born in 1982 in Cape Town, South Africa. Combining aspects of performance, weaving, sculpture and installation that draw upon his upbringing, his cross-disciplinary practice is an ongoing investigation into hybrid identity, particularly in relation to race and sexuality. Raised by Christian grandparents in a community racially classified as ‘coloured’ under apartheid legislature, he is an observant but liberal Muslim who occupies a precarious place in his religious community because of his homosexuality. As such, the quiet activism of Adams’s work speaks to his experiences of racial, religious and sexual liminality, while breaking with the strong representational convention found in recent South African art. He uses the material and formal iconographies of Islam and ‘coloured’ culture to develop a more equivocal, phenomenological approach towards these concerns and offer a novel, affective view of cultural hybridity.
Themba Tsotsi is a freelance writer writing mainly about visual art, based in Cape Town. He graduated from University of the Western Cape B.A Honours in English and Cultural Studies in 2006. He was founding member of Gugulective and has recently published his first book titled “Art Movements and The Discourse of Acknowledgements and Distinctions” (Vernon Press).