Athi-Patra Ruga: Interior/Exterior / Dramatis Personae
Ongoing at WHATIFTHEWORLD is Athi-Patra Ruga’s exhibition of recent work Interior/Exterior ⁄ Dramatis Personae, a Saga in Two Parts.
For Interior/Exterior the artist has created a series of stained-glass panels. In the series, Ruga reflects on the tradition of stained-glass artistry and its theological origin as a story-telling medium. He uses the weight of this prestige as a catalyst to attain iconic status for characters extracted from his well-established pantheon, beautifying them as deities. Part 1 is an act of remembrance and memorialisation, an ongoing undertaking of the artist to reify figures erased from the historical archive and lost to public imagination, as seen in his previous exhibition Queens in Exile 2014 – 2017 and his series The BEATification of Feral Benga (2017 – ). Ruga undertakes the expansion of his Metaverse, highlighting his own Black, Queer, and Femme imaginaries: unrecorded, misrepresented and forgotten in history.
If Interior/Exterior is a remembrance of characters already loved by Ruga’s audience, then the tapestry series Dramatis Personae is an introduction to a new cast. Interior/Exterior seems to foreshadow Ruga’s second offering: in one tapestry we see the stained-glass windows of a chapel forming the backdrop of a scene. Dramatis Personae seeks to establish Ruga’s avatar, Nomalizo Khwezi, a child prodigy working in an Azanian publishing house who finds herself in a predicament with her lover, Nestra Brink, the wife of the company’s owner. Both women are informed by literary characters presented in the “classical” Lovedale Press collection. These tapestries form part of Ruga’s Lunar Songbook Cycle (2018 – ), a trans-media body of work using motifs informed by astronomy and the Xhosa Calendar for a more ecological way of recounting time.
In this saga, Ruga addresses themes of double consciousness between urban and rural life; the duality of traditional and modern identity; and the dreams and failures of a mythological Azania, amongst others.
Interior/Exterior ⁄ Dramatis Personae runs until 30 June 2020, at WHATIFTHEWORLD.
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