When the dust settles a conflict of identities remains
Masterclass by Igshaan Adams, Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year, is rooted in his historical identity as a queer, coloured Muslim in Cape Town
When Dust Settles is a sculptural and art-piece installed masterclass by Igshaan Adams, Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year 2018. The Bonteheuwel-born artist has also worked in myriad of other art forms, most recently performance art — rooted in his historical identity as a coloured Muslim in Cape Town — as well as a handful of portraits that form part of the When Dust Settles exhibition.
Throughout a walkabout in early December, Adams repeatedly spoke about the conflict of identities and it’s evident across all the works that were on show — garden-fencing covered in cotton threads, vinyl hanging from the wall, the two-version portrait of himself, a mirror from prison in the sanctimonious space and more.
The conflicts and contradictions are rooted in him as a queer person of colour in Cape Town as well as his personal history, he says. His is not altogether dissimilar from many other personal histories in the Cape Flats, a place where heterogeneity, among other things, thrives.
“My mother’s parents come from Namaqualand and they were Christian and she converted to Islam when she was a teenager and married my father soon afterwards. My parents weren’t responsible, they were quite immature. When I was about five years old they got a house in Lavender Hill. It’s the worst part of Cape Town I would say, or one of the worst places.
“My grandparents decided to keep us in Bonteheuwel so I was five when my grandparents took over the responsibility of raising me. My grandmother is a religious Christian but still allowed Islam and had a deep appreciation for it. She undertook the task of teaching us and giving us an Islamic education,” Adams reminisced. The exhibition title, When Dust Settles, signifies the conflicts coming to rest after their battle.
Adams co-ordinates the space first — itself wide enough to walk about uninterrupted. Unwanted vinyl flooring pulled from homes across the Cape Flats is purposefully scattered across the floor, their patchy holes covered over by a fix of foreign faux-tile, as well as against the walls. The clean wooden floors and white walls of the entrance hall seem distant in a space that would feel distinctly like home to some. The vinyl hanging from the walls, not entirely plastered down and some of it akin to curtains, is co-ordinated by colour and tone.
The soft blue, green and grey that colour the first few metres beyond the entrance make it cool and calming, while a cosy brown typifies the centre walls. The walls closest to the far end are a rich red. “Every time the material changes. We use hot glue guns to put the vinyl down. Here it’s all the warm tones, in the front it’s quite cool. There are lots of greys and there’s progression as you move through the space. Also the effort of the people to patch up the holes in the vinyl, that’s beautiful and something that I quite enjoyed,” Adams said.
Across the room are wiry sculptures, eery and ever-present. Some sit on the floor like creatures ready to rise, others stand on a solitary leg, one hangs chandelier-like from the ceiling and a few are mounted on the walls. The sculptures are made of garden fencing, the thin wire often covered in green plastic and string. They bend and twist and hypnotise the eye.
In the centre of the space, between two removable 2m high walls, sits a bankie and a waslappie hanging over the edge of a shallow bucket. Hung from the back of both walls, facing each other, is a mirror and a portrait that is split in half vertically of Adams with his head rising looking up to the right, and an older version of himself with his head bowed looking to the left. The portraits are sewed into the pants material of the Cape Coons.
At the entrance is another portrait, but sewed into the blanket he slept under at his grandmother’s house growing up. The mirror belonged to Adams’s father, a police officer during apartheid, who had taken it from an inmate’s cell in Pollsmoor. Ighsaan’s dual portrait of himself is reflected straight into the mirror.
“There were many things that I realised that I needed to overcome beyond the financial [for this exhibition]. It’s very difficult for a person of colour to exist in Cape Town. It’s not an easy space, so there was also a mental thing that I needed to overcome. I chose this garden fencing because growing up we had this beautiful garden and I thought, as much as we border off our little physical spaces, maybe there’s a mental space that gets bordered off in some ways too? So at least this is what I project onto that material with the garden fencing.
“We wrapped it up in cotton threads and reduced its colour to give its ghost-like presence; anywhere you move in the space there’s always one peeking out or being present. They sit between the abstract and the figurative, like a sleeping figure,” Adams said.
The bankie and waslappie are from a previous exhibition that Adams has incorporated into When Dust Settles. They were originally from a performance art work that he did with his sister, where they took turns washing each other’s feet.
Waslappies and Islam
On the rear of the back-door-facing wall on which the mirror hangs are hundreds of old waslappies. Adams’s use of the word “eery” to describe his sculptures is multiplied tenfold when you crane your neck to see the waslappies. They’re arranged in a triangle from just below the top of the wall to the floor, where dozens more rest. In the middle of it all are black tassels previously used to tie curtains. Little light is shone on it, whereas most sculptures are lit from different angles, and its placement between two pillars helps it hide from the light despite it being between two lit sculptures.
“I wanted something connected to cleanliness because that is such an important aspect of Islam and Sufi Islam specifically. If you were to convert to Islam that’s one of the first things you’d be taught, how to keep yourself clean, because that’s where it starts. We use these waslappies in the mosque when we do our ablution and the ablution really has nothing to do with cleaning yourself physically, because you have to do it even after you’ve taken a shower.
“It’s about cleaning yourself consciously and being conscious of energy, beyond what you can see. I tried to install this in a way that from the collective there are a few individual [waslappies] shooting off. The reason I went dark and messy like this was because all the sculptures were so white in the space, I needed a work that counterbalances that, because then it all becomes the same. You’re expecting a white sculpture with wires, so I guess this one was a good way to go against expectations,” Adams said.
Igshaan Adams will host a walkabout of When Dust Settles, at the Iziko SA National Gallery in Cape Town at 11am on January 26. The exhibition runs until January 27.