Africa

Athi-Patra Ruga's dazzling depiction of utopia

Published 3:53 AM ET, Tue February 20, 2018
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Athi-Patra Ruga miss azaniaAthi-Patra Ruga miss azania
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"Miss Azania, Exile is waiting" by Athi-Patra Ruga, was on display as part of the Pan-African exhibition during the African biennale, that took place at the Bamako National Museum throughout December and January. Created in 2015, it is part of Ruga's epic series, "The Future White Woman of Azania," that began in 2010. Courtesy of Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD
"The Future White Woman of Azania" features a number of female characters -- usually played by Ruga himself -- in vibrant and bizarre outfits. The series won Ruga international acclaim, with exhibitions across the world, including Moscow, Venice, France and the US. In 2015, he won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Performance, the most prestigious award in South Africa. Courtesy of Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD
"The Night of the Long Knives I", 2013. The world of Azania is depicted as a tropical idyll with lush vegetation. Its ballooned "white woman" rides on the back of a zebra. Courtesy of Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD
A still from "Over the Rainbow," a film as part of Ruga's 2016-2017 "Queens of Exile" exhibition. This project is a continuation of his "The Future White women of Azania" series, exploring the theme of exile. Courtesy of Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD
Ruga often plays the characters he invents. "My work revolves around me," he says. This is partly as a challenge to himself, he says, as it tests his acting ability and his performative range. Courtesy of Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD
Ruga uses many mediums to express his art, including fashion, performance, photography and film. "Most of my work starts out with me performing," he says, "going out into the streets and trying out a new character. There's a naivety that comes with these alien characters, and once they are faced with how men react to me, or how the laws of a city react to me, the dystopian element comes out." Courtesy of Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD
However, performance on its own has a limited audience. So Ruga also documents it through video, photography and art. "I need to use works and media that can travel, and actually reach people," he said. Courtesy of Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD
The bulk of the exhibition is made up of hand-embroidered tapestries. By creating quasi-historical artifacts, such as maps, portraits and tapestries showing mythological events, Ruga is forming his own nation, Azania. This piece is entitled "Somagwaza: a Queen's Herald." Courtesy of Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD
"The Glamouring of a Versatile Queen," 2015. Through his work, Ruga reimagines a matriarchal post-apartheid history. Courtesy of Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD
"Homelands as uBhaco (Mmabatho)," 2017. Ruga said he wants to explore ideas of exile in his work, since it is integral to the continent's history. Courtesy of Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD