Igshaan Adams Interweaves the Mundane with the Divine

At Casey Kaplan, New York, the South African artist transforms everyday materials into colossal tapestries inspired by movements that characterize the dances of his homeland

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BY Ian Bourland in Exhibition Reviews , US Reviews | 22 NOV 22

Besides the massive, suspended tableaux, Igshaan Adams’s studio in Cape Town, South Africa also accommodates a team of weavers from nearby townships and acts as a storehouse of bagged beads, polyester fibre, plastic shells, copper wire and wooden spheres — the detritus of a globalized garment industry otherwise destined for parts unknown.

His current show at Casey Kaplan, ‘Vastrapplek’, is named for Vastrappers, the young dancers of an ancient celebratory form called Rieldans, whom Adams recorded from above, capturing the undulating whorls of dust kicked up in their wake. Those patterns are the compositional map for eight new multimedia tapestries and three more sculptural forms shown here (all works 2022). As with Adams’s reimagining of prayer mats and linoleum, they elaborate upon his interplay of gestures imprinted by the body and those interlaced by hand.

A large tapestry that looks like tiger stripes or the dimpled surface of Mars.
Igshaan Adams, Bou Krag Met Die Springbok Se Ritme (build your power with the Springbok’s rhythm), 2022, wooden, acrylic coated, plastic, glass, metal and stone beads,mineral semi precious stone, rolled paper beads, seashells, mixed polyester braid, nylon braid, cotton ropes, plastic coated threading wire, cotton twine, fabric dye, 2.4 × 2.9 m. Courtesy: © Igshaan Adams and Casey Kaplan, New York; photograph: Jason Wyche

In the second gallery, I felt an uncanny sensorial oscillation as I stood surrounded by the deep blue and purple tones of Bou Krag Met Die Springbok Se Ritme (build your power with the Springbok’s rhythm) and Middag Son Maak Min Verskil (midday sun makes little difference). Seen from the centre of the room, these elements resolved to create what look like colossal topographic paintings, striations of metal mapping out veins, reefs and deltas. Move closer, however, and the subtle arcing of the surface and dangling fringe edge suggests a gravitational pull that deforms the otherwise aerial vantage. Weighty and barnacled like the thickest of impasto, these works counterpose with Paypakkies Groei Nog Op Die Wingerde (pay-packets still growing on the vines), a cyclonic array of gilded wire and nickel-plated charms. Suspended from the ceiling, it connotes another ritual, of auspicious prayers making their way heavenward from Earth, yet entangled somewhere in between.

A large dark tapestry with a blue fringe hanging from the bottom; it looks like the surface of dark planet
Igshaan Adams, Middag Son Maak Min Verskil (midday sun makes little difference), 2022, wooden, acrylic coated, plastic, glass, stone, bone and metal beads, mixed braid, polyester and nylon ropes, fabric dye, threading wire and cotton twine, 2.3 × 3.2 m. Courtesy: © Igshaan Adams and Casey Kaplan, New York; photograph: Jason Wyche

This work offers an apt way to think about much of Adams’s practice: the working through of the numinous and the lowly, of briefly entangling matter. This most recent grouping makes clear just how radically materials can be transmuted through acts of sustained intention. Seen up close, ‘Vastrapplek’ is a series of aggregations, a warp and weft of broken plastic and gaudy neon Paracord, chintz beads and shredded fabric. It is especially stirring to see such labour on display in a gallery situated among the many emporia in New York’s Garment District that specialize in low-margin raw materials. In Adams’s hands, such materials are not merely converted into visual art, but imbued with a devotional energy.

A yellow-tinged sculpture that is vaguely spiral-like, dripping with beads and such
Igshaan Adams, Paypakkies Groei Nog Op Die Wingerde (pay-packets still growing on the vines), 2022, wooden, plastic, glass, metal beads, nickel plated charms, gold memory and copper wire, steel, nylon and polyester braided rope, cotton ribbon,119 × 113 × 69 m. Courtesy: © Igshaan Adams and Casey Kaplan, New York; photograph: Jason Wyche

Such a charge is perhaps most evident in Dit Voel Soos n Ewige Dans Sonder Einde of Begin (it feels like an eternal dance without end or beginning), a work visible the moment you enter the space, radiating cool tones of lichen and quartz from 50 feet away. It registers as the best AbEx painting you’ve never seen. But get closer and discrete textural sectors emerge: nacreous beads amid fields of black cord, densely accumulated as on the surface of a semiconductor. At their edge, a diaphanous web coats a rough surface, somewhere between spun sugar and lush cashmere. It is rare to sense that one is in the presence of an entirely original artistic medium and, yet, here one is.

A large tapestry that looks like shadows over a sunny groud
Igshaan Adams, Dit Voel Soos n Ewige Dans Sonder Einde of Begin (it feels like an eternal dance without end or beginning), 2022, wooden, acrylic coated, plastic, glass, stone and metal beads, mixed polyester and nylon braid, silk, mohair and wool ropes, wool fabrics, polycoated threading wire and cotton twine, 2.4 × 3.4 m. Courtesy: © Igshaan Adams and Casey Kaplan, New York; photograph: Jason Wyche

For all of the works’ idiosyncratic and plainly material pleasures, Adams’s recent approach is also broadly indicative of the attitudes of a younger generation of South African artists, a cohort that bypassed the parochial debates of the art press and confidently returned to ways of making informed by identities both resurgent and emergent – what survived colonialism and what has merged with contemporary life. It marks a return to what art has long been: the conversion of materials into something that creates a place of transfixion rather than mere recognition.

Igshaan Adams, ‘Vastrapplek’ is on view at Casey Kaplan, New York, until 7 January 2023.

Main image: Igshaan Adams, ‘Vastrapplek’, 2022, installation view

Ian Bourland is a critic and an art historian at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, USA. He is a contributing editor of frieze

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