Igshaan Adams, installation view of “Primêre Wentelbaan,” 2023. Photo: Ben Westoby, © Igshaan Adams, Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery, and blank projects

Igshaan Adams


Thomas Dane Gallery

Igshaan Adams’s current exhibition, “Primêre Wentelbaan” (on view through December 20, 2023), features new works from the last year. Large-scale tapestries, wall-hung cloud sculptures, and a multi-part floor work, all conceived as an interconnected installation across the gallery, reflect on the geography and politics of the artist’s childhood home in Bonteheuwel, a segregated township on the Cape Flats just southeast of Cape Town. This is Adams’s homeland at a remove, distanced in time and space, yet mapped out in familiar, quotidian materials. Fabrics, rope, beads, shells, twine, jewelry fragments, and other elements come together in a scaled-down and intensified memory, presenting the material and spatial relationships that defined Adams’s experience of Bonteheuwel.

The installation builds on his ongoing exploration of desire lines (unofficial paths worn down over time by repeated footsteps), which during apartheid, often connected communities separated by artificial boundaries designed to exclude communities of color, both physically and economically. For Adams, desire lines represent journeys of self-determination and transgression against entrenched, oppressive structures of regulation and control. For “Primêre Wentelbaan,” he turned his attention to satellite imagery of the area in question, which became the basis for drawings that traced the paths. There is an immediate and captivating tension at play in Adams’s use of sophisticated technology to provide the foundation for his densely worked and extensively layered handmade pieces. His labor-intensive processes—weaving, binding, and collaging—transform digital satellite views and drawings into evocations of three places in and around Bonteheuwel, where he lived, and nearby Heideveld, where his aunts lived. The two townships are separated by the N2 highway. While growing up, Adams traveled between these sites with his friends, forming a sense of self deeply embedded in the local environment.

The works here, which exist almost as emotional repositories, reveal different aspects of that experience. Arranged across the floor, the separate pieces of Kyk tweekeer vir die karre voor julle kruis! (Check twice for the cars before you cross!) are connected by the pathways that traverse the entire installation, a network of absences that, at one and the same time, highlight our separateness and togetherness. On the wall, Aan die anderkant van die blou veld hoor ek haar lag (On the other side of the blue field I hear her laugh), highlights distance and asks us to reflect on the experience of others. The deep dark shimmering spaces of Sterverligte paadjie huis toe (Starlit path home), a tapestry diptych, envelop and enfold, referencing a transitional space, a no man’s land surrounded by highways yet still lit by starlight and imbued with the kind of poetics that implies—darkness, hope, resistance, humor, youthful bravado, and tenderness all jostle for a place.

The bright, bold colors that make up these works conjure a childlike sense of wonder, their jewel tones far removed from the dirt that would have been beneath Adams’s feet. Not forgotten, that dusty earth reappears and assumes new form in his delicate cloud pieces, which take their inspiration from the dust clouds created by dancer’s feet in the rieldans, a courtship dance from the Northern Cape. The glittering lightness of these structures, only just holding together, is heartening, hopeful, and joyous.