The art that finds clarity in the difficult terrain of South Africa

Her path went through a female-led Sufi community, studying graphic design at a technical college, and eventually graduating from art school. By then, a lot of things had changed. For his graduation show, he recreated his grandmother’s living room; she came and sat there, “watching her soaps” on television under her embroidered self-portraits.

The Chicago exhibit includes a room tiled with linoleum squares he salvaged from homes in Bonteheuwel. Many families, even poor ones, replace their linoleum every Christmas, he says. “This act, I find enough hope. But part of me also identifies with the fact that things have no value and make them precious.

Hendrik Folkerts, a former curator at the Institute of Art that curated the exhibition (he is now at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm), said Adams’ art developed outward, accepting first home and gradually the world. “He went from a very interior space to the actual earth,” Folkerts said.

Their land is difficult, but for them it is imperious. Although Cape Town is known to black South Africans for its carefree white privilege, compared to Johannesburg, Katz, who has tried both cities, said she found it necessary to stay there. “It’s important to take up space in Cape Town,” she says.

As for Adams, if his lines of desire carried him far, he never really left his community of Bonteheuwel, where for every social evil there was also a compensatory mechanism of solidarity. Now it’s his turn. His workshop employs friends, neighbors, aunts. Its studio director, Morné Roux, is a childhood friend who obtained his first passport for the trip to Chicago.

At the workshop, they call Adams “Pa”, or father. He can’t stand it; they won’t stop. “It’s a beautiful community,” he says. If his production is prolific, it is also because he takes care of his people. “It’s a huge responsibility,” he said, not complaining in his tone. “I can’t drop the ball.”

Christopher S. Washington