SA artist set to bring queer paradise to cyberspace

South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga. Picture: WhatIfTheWorld

The artist’s ‘Interior/Exterior & Dramatis Personae’ exhibition can be enjoyed online.

With the global Covid-19 pandemic rapidly changing how we go about our daily lives, business deals, and even our art and entertainment options, galleries and artists around the world are rising to the occasion.

Among those venturing into the digital realm is 36-year-old interdisciplinary South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga.

Initially billed to show from 8 April to 6 June this year, Ruga’s Interior/Exterior & Dramatis Personae exhibition, which opens with a splendid display of stained glass as well as lead and powder-coated steel is set to bring queer paradise to cyberspace.

In the first part of the series, which is a “saga in two parts”, the artist reflects on the tradition of stained-glass artistry and its theological origin as a story-telling medium, while sharing the process behind his fantastical imaginings of his utopian Queer African paradise of Azania.

The Cape Town-based WhatIfTheWorld gallery, which represents Ruga, says on its website that with his latest offering: “Ruga undertakes the expansion of his metaverse, while highlighting his own black, queer and femme imaginaries: unrecorded, misrepresented, and forgotten in history.”

‘Swazi Youth After’ stained glass. Picture: Hayden Phipps

While the stunningly prismatic stained-glass Interior/Exterior segment remembers characters already loved by Ruga’s audience, his tapestry series Dramatis Personae is an introduction to a new cast.

“These tapestries form part of Ruga’s Lunar Songbook Cycle, which is a transmedia body of work using motifs informed by astronomy and the Xhosa calendar for a more ecological way of recounting time,” says the gallery.

Although not available to speak to The Citizen, Ruga told Daily Maverick that even with the global Covid-19 pandemic and the national shutdown getting in the way, the show must go on.

Pondering on how this Covid-19 dystopia might play out in his utopian paradise of Azania, Ruga said: “The virus would function as a divine signal, a warning to reconsider the ways we live and abuse the earth. But, of course, Azania is the utopia, so health is something that is there. There is no suffering.”

Until such time that South Africa and the world regain our health and safety footing again, and audiences can experience the exhibition in person, it can for now be enjoyed online.

‘Nobantu and uMajola’ tapestry. Picture: Jarred Figgins

About Athi-Patra Ruga

Athi-Patra Ruga, originally from Umtata, lives and works in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

After his initiation to art at Belgravia Art College in London he specialised in fashion design at the Gordon Flack-Davidson Design Academy, and quickly he went on to become one the continent’s most respected young multidisciplinary artists.

Through performance art, videos, photography and textiles he questions the notions of identity, alienation, and the symbiosis between the body and soul.

Ruga’s body of work brings the viewer into a subversive and fantastic universe that is coloured with provocation and eroticism.

He has been presented at major international events, among these, the 55th Venice Biennale and the Dakar Biennale in 2008.

Additionally, Under Tinsel Sun was shown at the 3rd Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, and The Elder of Azania was shown at the MoMA in San Francisco, in 2014.

In 2015, he received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Performance Art during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

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