The work of Cape Town based artist Igshaan Adams can be understood as an ongoing investigation into his personal hybridity. Being of Cape coloured* descent, as well as being Muslim and homosexual, his work goes beyond these predetermined identities towards a deeper exploration of the self.
“I was so keenly interested in identity,” says Adams, “specifically my political identity: my body, my race, my gender, my sexuality, and my experiences according to those lines… for some reason, as soon as I felt that I had a grip and had gone through this process of understanding my identity, it became unimportant for me.”
By exploding these restrictions, he began to engage with a different conflict: the quest for spirituality. His search led to Arabic, a language that he was first taught in his childhood Quranic lessons. In his search for deeper spirituality, Adams began to develop an understanding of the self through Sufi concepts of selfhood – Sufism being a mystical form of Islam that emphasises the inward search for God. This journey into the world of Sufism came through an ‘enlightened’ woman and Sufi mystic, whom he affectionately refers to as “Ma”.
I’ve looked at my own domestic environment, the home that I grew up in in Bonteheuwel, and it became the first space that I investigated
This association with “Ma” reveals itself in his work through methods such as collage, beading, quilting, tapestry, and embroidery, which reflect his relationship with his own mother, who was a textile machinist in the past. Echoes of the past have long been a place of inspiration for the artist, dating back to Jou Ma se Poes (2009) – an installation that used objects from his childhood home in Bonteheuwel, Cape Town, and depicted an ordinary Cape coloured living room. “I’ve looked at my own domestic environment, the home that I grew up in in Bonteheuwel, and it became the first space that I investigated,” Adams explains. He has been shaped by the past events of his home not only in his approach to installation, but throughout his practice. He has used his practice as a tool to search for catharsis from the violence and abuse of the past – “I wanted to heal myself,” says the artist.
It is from this complex and mystical standpoint that Adams’ practice frequently emerges. His interest in mysticism has been a journey that has gone from “one extreme to the other,” with the present being defined by finding the middle ground. Adams relates the abstract ideas that emerge from Sufism to the pursuit of abstraction as seen in his tapestries – a departure from his early self-portraits. With square Kufic calligraphy woven into the material, his works allude to verses in the Qur’an – all testament to his search for an understanding of a higher sense of knowing the self.
* Cape coloured is a person of mixed European (white) and African (black) or Asian ancestry, as officially defined by the South African government between 1950 and 1991.
An article by Khumo Sebambo
Featured image : Igshaan Adams, Crawl (detail), 2018. Beads, galvanised wire, cotton twine and mixed rope, fringe. Courtesy Blank Projects.
This article was written for The Art Momentum | Cape Town Art Fair Artpaper. [French version inside]
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