19.05 - 25.07.2021
Igshaan Adams’ ‘Kicking Dust’ at the Hayward Gallery, part of London’s South Bank Centre, is a contemplative offering which fills a roomy hall with carpets and clouds.
The title refers to the ‘rieldans,’ a dance performed by indigenous South Africans (including the San, Nama and Khoi). Adams encountered these group courtship performances as a child in the Northern Cape. The dance consists of energetic footwork which kicks up clouds of dust. Dust, here, is soil and geography which Adams represents in his titular installation: a woven rug in four sections that puzzle-piece together like tectonic plates. Spaces between the sections allow visitors to wander, and silvery clouds cast shadows which reconcile the elements. The work seems, at first, to be in local colour, but on closer inspection, a myriad of materials in vivid hues (including semi-precious stones and synthetic bike cables) optically blend to recall the scrubby greens and ochres of the Cape Flats.
The paths between the sections are desire lines: unplanned footpaths worn by decades of use. Drawn from desire lines between the township suburbs of Langa and Bonteheuwel (where Adams grew up), the paths indicate bridges between these and other communities divided, pitted against each other by the policies of the Apartheid government. The paths log acts of resistance through erosion.
On the walls, we venture from the outside in. Eight tapestries showcase Adams’ handsome, desaturated palette. Oor die Drimpel (Over the Threshold) is patterned with eight-pointed stars on a rust-coloured background. The repetition is interrupted by orange and black marks. Agter Om (Around the Back) is tiled with black lines and diamonds on a white plane; this time, grey and turquoise shapes intrude on the mosaic. These are abstractions of motifs common to the linoleum floors of his youth and their accompanying signs of scuffing and disintegration. Like desire paths, this wear indicates human presence, habit and ritual: the shuffle of feet writing their needs and wants into the ground.
His work notes the similarities between the geometric patterns of ‘tapyt’ and Islamic decorative art, underscoring the link between the intimate domestic sphere and the sublime.The reproduction of imagery that relates to the artist’s faith – as well as his chosen medium, weaving – speak to repetition as meditation. The fact that rugs play a role in Islamic prayer rituals further marries the medium with Adams’ project, which is to find some kind of enlightenment. He works towards this goal by deconstructing the boundaries imposed by supposedly-mutually-exclusive identifiers. Adams credits his discovery of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam that emphasises introspection and closeness to God, with an ability to reconcile the different parts of his identity (from his ‘Coloured’ ethnicity and culture, to his Islamic faith, to his queer sexuality). In his work, these are addressed in a manner that is quietly philosophical. Dust, after all, is also the residue of everything: organic fibres, minerals, skin, clothing; the materials of life intermingled.
Adding to the sublimity of the show is its cleverly directed lighting. Some areas are spotlit to cast shadows (the ones that gather beneath the ‘wolke’ are dark enough to make you take your washing in), while others are enveloped by an almost religious gloom. In this indoor twilight, photos fail to capture the way the works are animated by subtle glittering. As you move through the space, beads and stones catch the light, so that even the dullest hues twinkle. Frankly, it’s beautiful.
Not detracting from the sacred mood, but not adding much either, is Klipgooi (Throwing Stones), a selection of six sculptural forms. They look like tangles of fishing nets that have been dredged from the ocean or the contents of a jewellery box in need of organisation. They are meant to directly convey the dust plumes of the ‘rieldans,’ but they lack the levity or movement that would pull off the visual metaphor.
Nevertheless, ‘Kicking Dust’ is immensely rewarding. The show reflects a process of writing and overwriting, collecting materials and gaining insight between moments of creation and quiet prayer. It offers a sense of the relationship between single lifespan and traditions and aesthetics that have been formed over millennia. Multiple legacies that inform Adams’ identity are acknowledged and then gently eroded, allowing the artist to become himself.