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Igshaan Adams: Personal Devotion

Multi-disciplinary artist Igshaan Adams unpacks his identity through ritualistic performances and his use of handicrafts such as embroidery and beading. Delving into personal topics that look toward the environment in which he was raised, he resolves conflicting identities in a quest for spiritual enlightenment.

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Text by Tracy Lynn Chemaly

TLmag: How did you come to use craft techniques in your work?
Igshaan Adams: I was trained as a traditional artist at college, using oil on canvas, charcoal, etc. When I started at Ruth Prowse [school of art in Cape Town], I was encouraged to explore other media. Stitching and fabrics were a natural thing for me because they’ve always been part of my life. I grew up with a grandma and aunt who were always involved in crafts. My aunt taught my brother and I to knit at the age of five or six. We would fix our clothes and make bags from old jeans. [For my art], I started finding materials that evoked my memories as a kid, such as my grandparents’ clothing, making collage fabrics and portraits from these, using the textiles from the cultures I grew up in.

TLmag: These cultures have shaped who you are. How does your work reflect on this?
IA: It’s been a very personal mission of mine to figure out and deal with my identity, specifically in relation to the environment in which it was formed, so there’s often a strong presence of domesticity [in my work]. I’ve taken this a step further by introducing my own family members as performers and contributors. My grandmother performed in my graduation show. She crocheted a blanket while watching her favourite soap, like she normally did at home. It showed the nurturing component of identity formation. In another performance, my father washes my body as if I had died. It dealt with our dark history that I was trying to put to rest and opened up the door to us now being really good friends. Last year my brother and I did a performance where we washed each other’s feet. He’s very light in complexion – almost white-looking. Growing up during Apartheid, with my dark skin and with darker hair, and being treated that way… I needed to tease out that relationship with him and understand how it contributed to who I became, and to fix that. We’ve had the best relationship ever since that performance.

TLmag: These rituals seem to tie in with your interest in Sufism and the mysticism around it.
IA: Ritual hits a basic primal level and allows humility to reset things. Simple religious rituals can be so effective in reprogramming relationships. Sufism is about turning the mirror inward and forcing oneself to focus internally as opposed to externally. You can’t change the world if you can’t change your internal world.




Rahma (Grace), detail, glass and acrylic beads wire, 2018
Cloud I, 2019, wire, beads, metal spring, brick force and other mixed media, approx 92 (144) x 48 x 25 cm
Bent, 2018, mild steel, wire, rope, cotton offcuts, twine, beads approx. 247 x 185 cm
When Dust Settles (in process), 2018, Studio View
Crawl, 2018, garden fencing and cotton twine 162 x 95 x 170 cm
Bismillah, 2014, Performance, National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, © Ruth Simbao

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