The title of this survey exhibition is inspired by Crain Soudien in his Foreword to Elza Mile™ 2019 biography, An invincible spirit: Albert Adams and his art. Soudien describes making meaning as the “central impulse” in Adams™ life and his art. Although he excelled at art from a very young age, growing up as a mixed-race youth in Cape Town was not easy. His application to study at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, was denied due to the colour of his skin. Fortunately his talent was recognised and nurtured by individuals, while his training and exposure to some of the great artists, thinkers and writers of the twentieth century provided the solid foundation from which he could forge his own style.

  • 05 August 2019 - 31 August 2019
  • Main Gallery, Mezzanine Gallery

This exhibition celebrates the 90th anniversary of Adams’ birth and it spans more than fifty years. Moreover, his grandfather arrived in Durban as an indentured labourer and it was Adams’ dream to exhibit in this city. We are fulfilling that dream. The paintings, drawings and prints on the show reveal his prodigious talent, as well as the instinctive expressionism, charged with social awareness and commitment, which would characterise his work from beginning to end. 

Although Adams did not subscribe to any religious denomination, he was deeply spiritual and religious subjects feature in his work (Crucifixion, c. 1950; Mosque, 1959). More often than not, he explored and developed his chosen themes in series. The Prisoners or Incarceration series was a particularly poignant one for him. The invisible but equally powerful shackles of apartheid South Africa, the visible imprisonments on Robben Island and the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib in Iraq, are manifested in the drawing Prisoner (Incarceration Series) of1999 and the monumental painting Abu Ghraib Figure, 2004. The series in which apes or ape-like creatures feature date from 1969 and Adams returned to the theme in 2001. The majority of these works are in black and white and his drawings and etchings are characterised by a powerful gestural quality and intense mark making.  

Adams called himself a Londoner and engaged with genocide, natural disasters and atrocities perpetrated across the globe, but he frequently returned to the country of his birth. After 1994 he explored the challenges, dangers and threats that came with political change, compelling the viewer to see and share the disillusionment of the downtrodden and marginalised. The Celebration series forms a major part of his output, especially from 1999 to 2004. While alluding to the Kaapse Klopse (Cape Minstrels) – the New Year celebration held on 2 January – the drawings and paintings are anything but jolly, festive, celebratory works; on the contrary, the mask-like, distorted faces are angry and menacing – the dark side of ‘carnival’ and of life. 

Adams’ identity and vision were forged in the crucible of apartheid but his range was universal and timeless, and his work, spirit and search for meaning speak to all of humanity – across borders and beyond his lifetime.

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