Adams’s complex personal history and penchant for exploring his own lived experience makes his work ripe for questions of identity, which the critical narrative around him is quick to point out. He is both gay and Muslim. He is “Cape Coloured,” the term for South Africa’s creole, mixed-race minority, and was born 12 years before the end of Apartheid. Growing up, he says, “racism was completely normal. It’s been a struggle for me to try and undo some of those patterns of thinking that were instilled as a child.”
In his own family, he explains, his light-skinned aunt was able to get documentation stating that she was white, affording her an abundance of rights including that of marrying a white man. There is no doubt that Adams meditates on the sociopolitics of his life in his artwork. His show “Parda” at blank projects earlier this year, for example, included sculptures made from patterned curtains in “victorian colors” resembling the ones that hung in his aunt’s house. But he is understandably wary of being put into the box that often comes with belonging to politicized sexual, religious, and/or racial groups and making art about it.
That box is almost always troubling, and Adams’s practice is certainly too expansive to fit inside it. When I ask him if he feels committed to staying in South Africa, where his political and religious experiences inform his work (and where he is in the process of getting his master’s degree at Rhodes University), his answer is firm. “Definitely not,” he says.
“I love placing myself in other environments. In my practice, the first thing above all was, ‘how has my domestic environment shaped me?’ But I want to experiment with what happens to me—and the work—when I’m in a different environment.” One such environment was Basel, where Adams completed a residency in 2013. It was isolated and freezing cold. “I couldn’t sleep,” he recounts. “I had nightmares. I really, really struggled.” In his fear, he began praying constantly, “speaking to God, fighting with God,” as he puts it.