art, Interviews

with hindsight: q&a with standard bank young artist award winner igshaan adams

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When Dust Settles, Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Igshaan Adams’ solo show, was created for exhibition first at the National Arts Festival in Makana in the middle of the year and is currently on at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg. The exhibition comprises pieces that readdress concepts that Adams has explored or materials he has used in previous bodies of work, in a quest to find out how these may evolve and be extended through maturity and hindsight.

Looking back is a regular exercise for the artist whose work is concerned with personal histories, particularly his own, growing up Muslim in Cape Town in the 80s and 90s. The main focus of the show will be installations made with vinyl flooring which revisit Vinyl, his first solo show after graduating from art school in 2009 for which he extracted worn vinyl flooring from homes in Bonteheuwel where he grew up.

For the new body of work, the white shapes left in the flooring after the printed patterns have been walked off during daily domestic life are mirrored in new large-scale bead and yarn tapestries. ‘I’m interested in trying to piece together narratives by looking at marks on the floor – something so overlooked – and wondering what kind of stories they tell,’ Adams says. Among the vinyl wall installations and woven works will be abstract sculptural figures made from the same white fencing his grandparents had in their front garden, obscured within layers of string – a nod to the weaving he has incorporated into his practice more recently. The ghostly figures represent ideas, dreams or aspirations made visible.

We spoke to Adams shortly before When Dust Settles first opened in June 2018.

what was the starting point for When Dust Settles?

Starting out years ago I set these goals for myself that seemed so big and unachievable. So, winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, I wanted to take this moment to take a good look back at everything I’ve done. I was curious to see how I’ve developed and evolved and how things have changed. I asked what I missed the first time I dealt with certain issues and how I’d approach the medium or the concept differently as an older version of myself. I looked back at everything and I opened up my entire practice to myself.

how would you describe your practice?

I explain my practice and the way I think as a mind map: the core idea is always an internal search, going inwards as deep as I can and relating that space to the external, whether that’s my physical body, my environments or the players within those environments. Other concerns then branch off from this.

My practice is not linear. The concepts I explore continue. As much as I’ve dealt with certain issues in the past there’s still residue of things in new works. 

Igshaan Adams at work. 
'Hang' (2018). Garden fencing and cotton twine, wire; approx 160 x 160 x 200 cm.
'Hang' (2018). Garden fencing and cotton twine, wire; approx 160 x 160 x 200 cm (detail).

what are some of the past works you reference in When Dust Settles?

In a previous performance my father washed and prepared my body in the Islamic ritual as if I’d died (‘Please Remember II’, 2013). This time I’ve asked my brother, who is older than me, to do a feet-washing ritual with me.

My brother and I grew up in apartheid Cape Town and he was very light-skinned, he had light eyes, he had blonde hair as a kid, he was very white-looking and he was certainly treated in this way so I became a sort of shadow figure. For all of my childhood and into my teen years I felt like I didn’t have an identity of my own, I was only Kashief’s brother. That was tough.

Later in our lives we’ve formed a really tight bond, we’ve committed ourselves as adults to being good brothers to each other. I really enjoy this idea of brotherhood that as much as we grew up in the same environment we took such different paths and we are very different people. In this performance I’m bringing together ideas of forgiveness and humility.

In a separate performance my mom will be cooking gedat melk or boeber, a sweet milk drink we normally serve during a religious gathering. The idea came to me in a dream before I began making work for this exhibition. In it my mom was boiling these big pots of milk and saying that she knows how much I like the cream so she’d prepared all of this before anybody else arrived so that I could eat as much as I wanted. In the past I’ve worked with my own dreams so for this work I wanted to choose a more recent dream to work with. It’s almost like a performance-slash-part of the catering.

how do you hope people will react to the work?

As an artist you are always aware of how you think people will read the work, so you try to guide people through the experience. But I enjoy being surprised by how people see things and I learn so much about what others pick up. I’ve deliberately made an effort to keep some things mysterious; from an Islamic point of view I’m interested in mysticism, that whole crazy world where things don’t make sense. You don’t want to give everything away where people think, ‘Oh I get it, it’s time to move on.’ You want people to work a little bit and I think I’ve achieved that, leaving the viewer mystified and maybe even a little bit frustrated. But I’ve tried to balance this by using aesthetics and beauty. Beauty is important to me because people can appreciate it even if they don’t understand the concept.

When Dust Settles is currently on show at the Standard Bank Gallery in Frederick Street in the Johannesburg CBD; the exhibition runs until 15 September 2018.

'When Dust Settles' Installation view, Gallery on the round, National Arts Festival.
'When Dust Settles' (2018)


'When Dust Settles'. Found vinyl flooring installation detail.
'Sleep' (2018). Garden fencing and cotton twine; approx 210 x 130 x 67 cm (detail).
'Self-portrait', 2009. Cotton thread embroidery on found blanket, 30 x 20 cm.
'Search' (2018). Wire, beads, bead necklaces fringe, cotton thread, rope, memory springs; approx 110 x 55 x 122 cm.