17 September - 22 October 2022
WHATIFTHEWORLD presents ADAMAH, a solo exhibition by Inga Domyala.
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works and that my soul knoweth right well.
My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
I can tell you what I know now, since it’s only become clearer with time. I’ll start with the shoes. When my grandmother was buried in 2019, my cousins and I helped the gravediggers clear some soil from her grave. I was wearing those shoes. And since that trip home, they have remained in a plastic bag, inside an old duffle. In time, they turned into something else. A memory is preserved where the soles are soiled; it is the memory of my grandmother’s return to the dust of the Cofimvaba hill side. These shoes reinforce my want to dig, and to inhabit a realm below the surface.
For me, the richness and complexity of land is in the chthonic – where history, heritage, lineage lie – deeper still if one digs down to ancestry and our primordial relationship with land. Stretching this idea into its fullest sense, I want to confer shared, personal, literal and philosophical applications of landscape.
I consider the twelve central paintings as more literal than they are abstract – although portrait in orientation, they are landscapes in the most sensory and tactile sense. Some of the soil I’ve used is sourced from my home eKomani, some of the clay I’ve used is from the Tankwa Karoo. I have also used red ochre, red oxide, green oxide and ash in the making of these works. These pigment-materials help me better grasp at a primordial aspect of the human experience in time and space – to elicit, through their very nature, that which is beyond language.
The title ADAMAH is derived from the Hebrew word, meaning ‘land’, ‘the ground’, ‘soil’ or ‘red soil, red clay’; also ‘made from earths mud’ or ‘dark- coloured like earth’s soil’. There is an etymological link between the word adamah and the biblical Adam, who is said to be made ‘of the dust of the ground’ (Genesis 2:7). The notion of ‘red soil’ in the multiple meanings of the name Adam furthers the symbolic network of themes in my practice, and echoes the heterogeneous spiritual practices that Santu Mofokeng recognised. I am interested in the symbolic overlap of ‘Christian and pagan beliefs’ here; what Santu Mofokeng calls the ‘threshing floor of faith’ in Chasing Shadows (2011).
In my work ‘redness’ is an extension of the notion of i-qaba. In The Ochre People (1963), Noni Jabavu also uses the term ‘pagan’ for i-qaba. This is to distinguish traditional Xhosa beliefs and practices from the Christianised converts or ‘school people’ (another term referenced in The Ochre People). I think what Santu Mofokeng describes is a synchronous or heterogenous practice that respects both perspectives; the way that my grandparents raised us too.
A different kind of lineage and symbolic network is suggested in the two large flag installations. Extending this indication of land or ground, the adamah can also translate to ‘territory’ or ‘country’. The 27 four- colour flags make reference to an old flag that has come in and out of circulation in South African history – die vierkleur literally ‘the four colour’. It was an adaptation of the Dutch flag, which added a green stripe to the hoist of the original red, white and blue tri-band. Through the subtle re-configuration of the green band in this timeline, the 27th flag suggests a kind of continuity of a symbol of our often divisive national history in the present democratic state.
The nautical flags, scattered across the wall, spell two Latin phrases that also dig up a deeper and complex national history. ‘Spes Bona’ meaning ‘Good Hope’; a name that would help to endear this Cape to its colonial masters. ‘Vae Victis’ meaning ‘Woe to the Vanquished’ or ‘Woe to the Conquered’. The latter phrase makes reference to South Africa’s Frontier Wars (1779-1879). The Xhosa nation defended their territory against Dutch and British colonial forces for a hundred years in the Frontier Wars, and their tragic defeat marked the conquering of the land, its people, its cultures, societies, even its language.
ADAMAH is an invocation of ancestry and seeks to better understand, on a (meta)physical level, how where you are can influence a sense of who you are. In other words, that Adam was the first man ‘made of earth’s mud’ also resonates with my want to conflate notions of body and landscape; of identity and place.
Text by Inga Somdyala
Inga Somdyala is a visual artist born in Queenstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa, living and working in Cape Town; recently completed an MFA (2019) at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art.
In his work He explores personal aspects of the cultural, political and social negotiations of the post-apartheid generation. Working primarily in print media and installation, his work is an evocative and tactile exploration of cultural identity within South African political history as it intersects with his lived experience.
Inga Somdyala has taken part in a number of group exhibitions locally, most recently in Home Strange Home (2022), curated by Reservoir in collaboration with WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery, Verse (2022) at the Association for the Visual Arts (AVA) Gallery, Matereality at the Iziko South African National Gallery (2020), the head the hand (2019) at blank projects and AMAQABA Vol. 1 (2018), a collaborative body of work with Xhanti Zwelendaba at Eclectica Contemporary.