Standing in front of a former warehouse, now host to the Stellenbosch Triennale, I find my mind travelling back to a moment where my eye was caught by the conspicuous green poster stuck on a lamp pole in Stellenbosch. ‘Tomorrow there will be more of us’ echoes through my mind and I find myself puzzled with questions. More of who? Of what? And why? Baffled by this ambiguity, I stroll into this unknown, yet promising space.
This poetic phrase carries the heart and soul of the Stellenbosch Triennale 2020. The Stellenbosch Triennale serves as a multidisciplinary platform where creativity and imagination fuse to create new lived experiences and essentially to reestablish Stellenbosch as a continental creative hub. It confronts us with our past and nurtures our present to gradually cultivate a common imagined future. The Triennale is hosted by several public sites located in and around Stellenbosch.
The Curator’s Exhibition boasts large, interactive installations inviting the viewers to openly engage with the artworks. The use of unconventional art materials can be recognized as a theme throughout this space. Nearly all of the artworks are built from alternative materials such as fabric, rubber, wood and even fufu mix. The incorporation of these materials raises questions concerning what we as a society value as art and how it defines our identity. It challenges the notions of high and low art, of art and craft.
Igshaan Adams addresses these ideas as he explores identity through the lens of spirituality and hybridity. I Am You is an extract from Adams’ exhibition ‘What we talk about when we talk about love’. The installation is inspired by a dream where according to Adams, an ‘unknown part of my soul met my own’. The concept is rooted within the introspective, spiritual and mystical ideas around love as embodied by the Sufis’ concept of ‘the reflection’. This body of work brings together aspects of identity, sexuality, upbringing, race and religion. I Am You portrays the intrinsic relationship between the unveiled true self and the multiple identities that construct it.
I Am You is a large maze-like, concentric structure built from various layers of sheer and translucent fabrics. In Islam it is believed that on the journey to enlightenment one must encounter a process of unveiling where the deeper spiritual self is retrieved. Adams invites the viewer to tap into a reservoir of knowledge as they wander through the layers of fabric in search of their central spiritual being, their true reality. This process challenges the individual to abandon the mind and dive into uncertainty.
Adams furthermore explores identity as a multidimensional site of spirituality and ambivalence. Born in Bonteheuwel, Cape Town, and raised by his Christian grandparents, Adams was constantly conflicted with his own identity. This has forced Adams to recontextualise his identity in accordance to multiculturalism, religion and sexuality.
As I wandered through the maze, touching and observing every piece of the delicate fabric, I associated certain memories with the experience. These memories each represented a specific narrative which has shaped the way I perceive the world. How we perceive the world essentially contributes to how we perceive ourselves. It forms part of the multiplicity that maps our identity. Each of the fabrics used in I Am You represents the numerous narratives produced from our personal, socio-political and spiritual experiences.
The materials used are translucent. This allows you to at all times to see the many layers of the structure. However, every fabric seems to look different when viewed through the lens of its facing layer. The masked fabric appears obscure, yet its presence is still traceable. In the same way, the multiple narratives constructing our true reality are not necessarily recognisable, yet their presence contributes to the context of how we see the world. Our internal reality serves as a map, tracing the various experiences we have with the external world.
After engaging with Adams’ work, I remembered myself feeling slightly interrogated as I recalled the Triennale’s passive-aggressive theme, ‘Tomorrow there will be more of us’. I have concluded that it is not a question of who there will be more of, but rather a call to understand the many versions of myself. The Triennale is an opportunity for the public to explore and acknowledge the various components of their past, present and future identity. It requires us to be brave and daring. It requires us to question our realities and dive into uncertainty. To, in essence, imagine the communal unveiling of all individuals in an interconnected and plural future.