For Igshaan Adams, linoleum tells a story and not just any story, but a history of communities. Petra Mason spoke to him on the occasion of his first solo US exhibition. 

Back in February, at the same time as the Stellenbosch Triennale was featuring the work of Igshaan Adams, I flew to Savannah in Georgia, USA, to attend the bustling opening of the deFINE ART Spring 2020 exhibition at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). 

At the exhibition, and again more recently, I spoke to the young Cape Town-born artist about his work and Getuie, his first solo exhibition in the United States. 

Artist Igshaan Adams uses linoleum to bear witness to the lives that have left their marks on its surface as it recorded the movement within homes. | Image: SCAD

Igshaan, I learnt, is a practising Muslim who was raised by Christian grandparents in Bonteheuwel, Cape Town. He draws upon the material and formal iconographies of Islamic culture as well as his upbringing in a colour- ed community to present delicate, decorative and yet complex works. Combining aspects of performance, weaving, sculpture and installation, he creates cross-disciplinary, multi-media pieces that are an ongoing investigation into hybrid identity, particularly in relation to race and sexuality. 

The title of his US show, Getuie, is Afrikaans, Igshaan’s mother tongue. Translated as ‘wit- ness’, it refers firstly to the way in which the popular and affordable linoleum flooring that forms the basis of his exhibition is testament to the lives that have left their marks and traces on it; and secondly to swearing on oath to the character of someone in your inner circle or gang. Getuie speaks to the young artist’s ongoing exploration of the domestic environment he grew up in. It’s all tied together: a contested site upon a contested site, where issues of race, religion, class and sexuality intersect in ways that are both comforting and unsettling. 

In the Savannah location, Igshaan’s installation lines the walls and floors of a historic building that, like much of the city, features exposed raw bricks. These bricks were made by slaves and on some can still be seen im- prints of their fingers, what is left of the per- son’s lived experience. And the same bricks now bear witness to Igshaan’s Getuie exhibition, an amalgamation of works created from large-scale sculptural weavings and heavily embellished two-dimensional wall hangings that map the linoleum flooring’s patterns and the pathways formed by years of foot traffic in the homes of working-class Cape Town sub- urbs, including Bonteheuwel. 

Installation view of vinyl flooring; Fall (2018) made with beads, galvanised wire, cotton twine and mixed rope; and Untitled (2019) for which the artist used nylon rope, cotton, twine and glass, stone, wood and plastic beads. | Image: SCAD

I asked Igshaan how his career as an artist began and how linoleum came to play such a prominent part in it. 

“After art school, I did not feel prepared for the art world at all. Instead of being conceptual, my training had been very traditional: still life, technique,” he explained. “I applied for and was accepted into Tupelo Workshop, where the director saw my work and offered me a scholarship. At the end-of-year exhibition I made an installation of a typical Cape coloured home using furniture I had collect- ed from different neighbours in my community. And that’s where the linoleum concept came from. It was really about looking at the domestic space that produced me. Looking for clues. If the environment that I grew up in – had been placed in – had been different, how different would I have been? Linoleum was always an important part of our spaces. Its surface recorded the movement and the his- tory within our homes, became a document of those families. In many cases, the linoleum was in the same space for decades. 

“Now that it’s cheaper and not as long-lasting, people do replace it. Every year around Christmas to freshen up the space, even if they can’t afford paint, there will always be new linoleum. I find that quite hopeful, no matter what the circumstances. That’s why I work with linoleum in particular: mapping a path in someone’s home.” 

clockwise from top left: Threshold II (2019) constructed out of nylon rope, cotton, twine and beads; installation view of Getuie; and installation view of vinyl flooring. 

Clockwise from top left: Threshold II (2019) constructed out of nylon rope, cotton, twine and beads; installation view of Getuie; and installation view of vinyl flooring. | Image: SCAD

What do you consider to be your formative piece? 

“The portrait on the back wall. It was really the first time I switched from oil painting to material-based work. I used a sewing machine. It’s on a piece of blanket, a blanket that was in our home for decades. My grandmother would iron our clothes on it. It really captures a period of my own life when I was going through a transition.” 

What did you have planned for 2020? 

“After the opening of the exhibition at SCAD, I was due to attend various art fairs through- out the year, but they’ve now been cancelled due to Covid-19. So I’ve been working steadily in my studio in Cape Town, producing work and planning my exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, which will open in 2022. I’ll also be taking up a local residency at the A4 Arts Foundation in Cape Town from Au- gust to November. My whole production team will move into the space to create work on site there; we’re all very excited about it.” 

Were you able to make it back to South Africa be- fore the border closed? And how are you navigating the shock of the new world we are dealing with in the arts arena? 

“We travelled back to South Africa from the US in late February, before the lockdown started in March. I brought one of my looms from the studio so that I could weave at home during the initial severe lockdown. I re- opened the studio when this was allowed and we have Covid-19 work regulations in place to protect us all at the studio.


Petra Mason

It is always so hard to get representation at a gallery, especially with so few gallery options in South Africa. How did you manage to achieve this? “Jonathan Garnham, the director of blank projects, approached me when he was changing blank projects from a project space to a commercial gallery back in 2012. He has been representing me ever since, along with the Casey Kaplan Gallery in New York, with whom I started working earlier this year.” 

Other than his current US debut, Igshaan has had three solo exhibitions internationally: at Akershus Kunstsenter in Oslo, A Tale of a Tub in Rotterdam and the Rongwrong Gallery in Amsterdam. He has also participated in numerous group shows around the world, including Mapping Black Identities at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Matters of Concern at La Verrière in Brussels and Material Insanity at the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden in Marrakesh in 2019; and in 2018, In This Imperfect Present Moment at the Seattle Art Museum, and Ravelled Threads at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York. Also in 2018, he won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art.