Artist Spotlight: Igshaan Adams


Among the Tiroche DeLeon Collection's latest discoveries, we are pleased to present the talented South African artist Igshaan Adams, from whom we have recently acquired Plate 7, an early work with a very symbolic personal significance.

Igshaan Adams,Plate 7, 2014, Islamic burial cloth, fabric and thread, 195 x 138 cm.

Plate 7 is an Islamic burial green cloth decorated with yellow Koranic verses and images of the Dome of the Rock and Kaaba, shrouded by a body of Rorschach’s inkblots. With its oriental aesthetic and clashing hues, Plate 7 represents much more than a holy item. This piece contains the essence of Adams’ way of making art. In fact, the piece originated from Bismillah, a performance which Igshaan did with his father. The performance consisted of the Islamic cleansing ritual performed on a corpse before burial, usually by the closest same sex relative. During the performance the father cleansed and wrapped Igshaan's body in three sheets of white linen and positioned it on the green burial cloth.

Turning his body into the central element of a transcendent and apparently queer experiment, the artist seeks to embark on a purifying act of paternal care. In this process of creation, the artist conveys a strong feeling of discomfort, born from a difficult relation with his father, who suffered from addiction and abusive tendencies.

“Make sure you die long before your death”. Ever since Igshaan heard this precept from the final sermon of the prophet Mohammed, he started questioning the real meaning of this expressionist statement, investigating and interpreting death as a medium of liberation. As the artist claims: “Only through darkness, we understand light”. In this context, Igshaan's symbolic death represents his search for a higher state of being. Breaking all conceivable boundaries between art and the private sphere, the artist does not hesitate to turn the public into spectators of his most internal conflicts and sufferings.

Igshaan Adams and his father, Bismillah performance @ Blank projects, 2014

Coming from Creole origins and classified as “coloured” under Apartheid legislation, Igshaan was exposed to the racial segregation of a regime which considered mixed raced people second class citizens. Born in Cape Town to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, he was raised by his maternal grandparents as a devout Muslim. Later on, his homosexuality has added to the many layers of his fragmented cultural and religious identities shaping his personal history. Adams explains: “I am driven by the need to unearth, unmask and unveil the mysteries hidden within the depths of the self, beyond race, class, religion, sexual orientation and gender. Who am I, beyond my identity?” This question drove the artist to develop an intimate approach to art consisting of a process of deep exploration of his being, loading his works with a special power.

Apparent in many works from his oeuvre is the subversion of formal iconographies and sacred artefacts of Islam as a medium to de-construct those stereotypes instilled as a child and to voice his discontent with society. Textiles represent a recurring theme in Igshaan’s works and Plate 7 exemplifies the fundamental role that the fabric as a medium plays in his artistic practice.Indeed,the artist inherited this passion from his mother, who was machinist and exercised a strong influence in Adams’ upbringing.  

Left: Igshaan Adams, Plate 7, 2014, Islamic burial cloth, fabric and thread, 195 x 138 cm.
Right: Igshaan Adams' solo booth at Blank Projects, LISTE Basel, 2015.

Igshaan Adams recently participated in LISTE - the young art fair during Art Fair Basel, with a solo booth at Blank projects. The show was an immediate success receiving major press coverage from Artsy with all works selling to major collections on opening day. Igshaan also received a comission for a new large scale work. It is rumored that one of the works from the Blank booth is destined for a large American museum.

Among his most renown projects are: In Between at Stevenson Gallery (2011), If that I knew at the Rongwrong gallery in Amsterdam (2013), Have you seen Him? (2013) and Parda (2015) at blank projects. In 2012 Wanted Magazine selected Adams as one of its 12 Young African Artists, and in 2013 he was awarded the IAAB/Pro-Helvetia residency in Basel, Switzerland. Lately, Adams was selected for the 2014 edition of SommerakademieimZentrum Paul Klee, in Bern, Switzerland, and has had a permanent sculpture commissioned for the WanåsKonst Sculpture Park in Sweden. Adams lives and works in Cape Town.