I met Igshaan Adams on a noisy Tuesday afternoon to speak to him about his new solo exhibition at the Standard Bank Gallery, titled When Dust Settles.
He is a calm young man who speaks to me in a soft yet intensely thoughtful and calculated manner.
In an attempt to jump right into the interview, I began to fixate on an installation. Just as I was about to ask about it, marvelling at the 100 or so used washcloths, Adams calmly whisked me to the centre of the gallery underneath a chandelier-like object made from string, beads and garden fencing.
He began by explaining the elaborate use of vinyl flooring throughout the exhibition. Adams spent five years collecting individual pieces of vinyl flooring from townships in the Western Cape, particularly Bonteheuwel, where he grew up, and in Khayelitsha. The vinyl represents a commonality between the lived experiences of two racial groups – the black and mainly Xhosa-speaking people of Khayelitsha, and the coloured community of Bonteheuwel. “Ultimately, I tried to pick up a political conversation between the two groups represented here and the tension between these groups,” he said.
“The idea, in its simplest form, is that it would be difficult to differentiate between which pieces came from which community. There’s such a big focus on the differences and yet we have a shared political experience.”
Another stark impression I got from the exhibition was the performance, during which Adams and his brother wash one another’s feet. He explained how this is significant, owing to the nature of their relationship – his brother is of a lighter complexion than Adams and apartheid-created colourism affected their relationship and how they were raised.
This is a similar concept to another Adams some years ago, when his father washed his body in an Islamic ritual. He went on to say that some of the work in When Dust Settles is an iteration and re-exploration of previous subject matter on different levels, projected in an effort to put old demons to rest.
Apart from the spiritual influence he draws from Sufism, a sort of Islamic mysticism, Adams also draws inspiration from Hermann Rorschach’s inkblot tests – a psychological test in which a subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analysed. A large woven piece that stands behind the setting of the performance is a great example of this.
Eventually, he took a deep breath and walked me back to the installation in which I had shown an avid interest before our tour.
“If these vinyls represent a collective, personal history of the domestic environment, these washcloths take it a step further to a place where it is completely personal,” he said.
“They go into the most private places on our bodies, and, in Islam, cleansing is such an important aspect of worship.” He explained that cleansing goes beyond the removal of physical filth to a more spiritual realm, tying together the monolith that runs between the ritual he shared with his father and the one he now shares with his brother.
I believe what this exhibition ultimately wishes to explore is the introspection of one’s existence; the recognition of shared experiences; and the cleansing of the soul.
- When Dust Settles will travel on a nationwide tour across seven cities
- The exhibition is currently open to the public at The Standard Bank Gallery in Marshalltown. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday from 8am to 4.30pm and Saturday from 9am to 1pm. Entrance is free