blank projects, Cape Town
22.01.2015 – 28.02.2015
Parda is the title of Igshaan Adams’ exhibition at blank projects, and it is a magical, incense-tainted word steeped in the mystery and intrigue of the seraglio and late 19th century Orientalism. The ‘Parda’ is the facial veil that proclaims the modesty of Malay womanhood and, in addition, it is a curtain or carved screen ensuring privacy within the gossipy purlieus of the harem.
Adams boldly cuts against the grain of South African art and rejects its predominantly figurative bias. Instead of embarking on representation, he cunningly subverts the formal iconographies and sacred artifacts of Islam in order to voice his discontent.
The basis of Plate 8 is a found tablecloth, though the colorless phrase hardly describes the austere splendor of this work which looks like a severe black altar cloth embellished with raised embroidery of stylized floral and foliate forms executed in lavish yardages of the costliest gold thread. The patterns disposed around roundels of similar design are purely traditional in their cursive Arabic fluency which combines immemorial imagery, rich symbolism and an opulence tempered by delicacy and restraint.
As distinctly Islamic as Michelangelo’s Pieta is Catholic, this proclamation of faith has been defiled by appliqués of cheap and nasty fabrics. This sacrilege of what is a sacred object of domestic ritual embodies the clash between the artist and the culture, society and religion in which he was raised, and it creates a shock effect akin to a four-letter graffiti in the Ladies’ Powder Room at the Dorchester Hotel.
All the tapestries, banners and hanging sculptures at Parda were conceptualized while Igshaan was studying in Bern, and the seemingly arbitrary shapes and alien fabrics he applies to his found materials reproduce Rorschach inkblots.
Plate 7 is an Islamic burial cloth containing images of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Kaaba in Mecca. Judged by European standards, it embodies an alternative aesthetic with its dissonant charivari of high-octane yellow and mephitic patches of bile greens. Certainly I could never embark upon my eternal rest enshrouded in such a thrombotic hullaballoo of violently clashing hues. The Rorschach blot shapes introduce a chromatic dissonance evocative of the artist’s unease in the society in which he was reared. The forms suggest predatory beasts, butterflies and other far more mysterious aleatory shapes.
This raises a problem as we cannot know what meanings Adams read into the Rorschach blots, and thus his own ambivalent responses to his culture, are not made privy to the viewer. For it is only a psychiatrist or psychologist who can evaluate the interpretation a person places on the blots which theoretically reveal his disposition, patterns of thought, cognitive deficiencies and ultimately, his reaction to his milieu upbringing.
We are told Parda concerns itself with Adams’ marginal status as a coloured, neither black nor white; as part Christian and part Muslim (he was raised by Christian grandparents); as a homosexual and free-thinker in a predominantly conformist culture. He is also by vocation an artist, which is an anomaly in his community where the Hadith- the ban on all forms of representation – remains in force. Adams’ unease, though not the precise reasons for it, emerge in the two pieces mentioned earlier, but this critique is absent from Plate 1, the largest work on the exhibition which looks like nothing more and nothing less than a stitched together decorative collage of contrasting fabrics, patterns and colors.
Plate 10 differs in its biographical intensity. It is fashioned from the curtains that once embellished the drawing room of Adams’ aunt who successfully passed herself off as a white woman. The curtains form part of this disguise, for the fabric is a pale, faded, Sanderson in the most timid of ‘ghastly good taste’ to quote John Betjeman. These very ‘wit’ and ‘Engels’ country garden adornments could not appear more British if they stood up and lustily delivered themselves of Land of Hope and Glory.
However the fabric has worn away, and through these rents we see a subcutaneous layer of quite another fabric of a far bolder, far more distinctively indigenous design. Like all the textile works, Plate 10 is a portrait, and it captures his aunt’s schizophrenic divisions and the unguarded moments when her genuine personality showed through the pretense that had become her life.
Wildly inventive soft sculptures dangle from the ceiling and enliven the center of the gallery space.
Plate 2 would appear to a white Anglo-Saxon of South African stock as the absolute acme of the unabashed kitschiness that appears typical of certain aspects of Muslim taste. It comprises a bouquet of artificial roses in the most ‘bont’ of fuchsia’s, cerises and pinks, interspersed with a smattering of sponge croutons rising from elaborate plaited cords supporting eight tizzy, manically over-titivated tassels. Beneath it is a round carpet scattered with transparent beads like tears. Did Santa Teresa not say that more tears are shed over answered prayers than those left unanswered? Here the owner’s successful plea for wealth appears to be an occasion for bitter regret, for all his money cannot blind us to the sheer awfulness of this specimen of parvenu vulgarity at its florid worst.
However, by far the most impressive hanging sculpture looks like some Jack-and-the-beanstalk plant that has thrust itself through the gallery walls, rounded the corners and thoroughly invaded the space, suggesting that nature – whether organic or human – will always emerge in the end. This thriving leafy outgrowth dissolves the barrier between architecture and nature, the gallery and the garden, and it symbolizes the glorious act of efflorescent consummation when the real Adams will be able to cast off the alien person he has so often been forced to impersonate.