Athi-Patra Ruga: Interior/Exterior ⁄ Dramatis Personae

WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town, South Africa
02 Jul 2020 - 05 Sep 2020

Detail of A Sight: Site for Contemplation. Photographer: Matthew Bradley.
Images courtesy of Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD
© Athi-Patra Ruga

Detail of A Sight: Site for Contemplation. Photographer: Matthew Bradley. Images courtesy of Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD © Athi-Patra Ruga

WHATIFTHEWORLD presents Athi-Patra Ruga’s new exhibition Interior/Exterior ⁄ Dramatis Personae, a Saga in Two Parts.

Part One begins with the stained-glass series, Interior/Exterior where Ruga uses colour as a seduction technique to draw the viewer into his Fantasia: a treacly introduction into a more gritty conversation. Referencing the windows of chapels, textured and swirled cathedral glass rupture across space: a marker of the violence inflicted onto bodies and personhood as a result of Christianity and colonialism. Deep ambers, crimson, emerald green, and cobalt blue glow from refracted light, touching the skins of those standing before them. The poetry in this gesture, of light travelling through space and settling on skin, is Ruga’s offering of healing to his community. He undertakes an ongoing expansion of his Metaverse, highlighting his own black, queer, femme imaginaries often unrecorded, misrepresented, and forgotten.

In the series, Ruga reflects on the tradition of stained-glass artistry and its theological origin as a story-telling medium. His fixation with the medium began in 2013 when, as part of his The Future White Woman of Azania Saga, he included a large stained-glass rendering of his fictional Arcadia’s coat of arms. In his latest offering, he reverts to the subversion of biblical morality tales. Subjects considered to be taboo and sinful under the highly politicised state religion of Christianity are instead artified. He uses the weight of the medium’s prestige to glamorise characters extracted from his well-established pantheon, positioning them as saints and icons. This phase is an act of remembrance and memorialisation, an ongoing undertaking of the artist to reify figures erased from an historical archive and lost to public memory, as seen in his exhibition Queens in Exile 2014-2017 and his series The BEATification of Feral Benga.

This is an excerpt of a text written by Lindsey Raymond in collaboration with Athi-Patra Ruga, which could be read in full length HERE.


Athi-Patra Ruga is one of the few artists working in South Africa today whose work has adopted the trope of myth as a contemporary response to the post-apartheid era. Ruga creates alternative identities and uses these avatars as a way to parody and critique the existing political and social status quo. Ruga’s artistic approach of creating myths and alternate realities is in some way an attempt to view the traumas of the last 200 years of colonial history from a place of detachment – at a farsighted distance where wounds can be contemplated outside of personalized grief and subjective defensiveness.

The philosophical allure and allegorical value of utopia has been central to Ruga’s practice. His construction of a mythical metaverse populated by characters which he has created and depicted in his work have allowed Ruga to create an interesting space of self reflexivity in which political, cultural and social systems can be critiqued and parodied. Ruga has used his utopia as a lens to process the fraught history of a colonial past, to critique the present and propose a possible humanist vision for the future.