The ascension of young South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga came fast under radar of International attention.
His work, that is often characterized by a dislocated humor, is transcending the divides between fashion, performance and photography and interrogates the body in relation to society, ideology and politics, subverting the western ‘art library’ as he calls it.
The Stimuleye talks to charming Athi-Patra, who was recently featured in the Phaidon book ‘Younger Than Jesus’, a directory of the world’s best artists under the age of 33, about his work and influences.
Athi Patra Ruga’s intervention for the X-Homes Hillbrow project with the character of ILUWANE. Photography by Nadine Hutton
RENÉ HABERMACHER: Where are you right now?
ATHI-PATRA RUGA: I’m in my Cape Town studio editing my latest tapestry series and fighting my cats… simultaneously. [laughs] I’m big on cat competitions… my two Russian blues Azange and Shadofax will be taking part so we have been grooming them like crazy… with a few scratches to prove it… hehe.
You’ve just came back from a break – have you got an idea already on what to work on?
At the moment I will be spending the next year creating quietly an extensive body of work revolving around a series of portraits that I will be rendering in tapestry. I have been doing a lot of sittings with various people and doing preliminary sketches. I am editing those now to get started in the next month. I was thinking of titles to name this body or the final exhibition etc: What do you think of :…the do’s and dont’s of bodyworship [laughs]
I am very interested in the power-relations involved in portraiture… especially in response to the ethnographic history involved. I am always concerned with who or what element in the image takes more precedents/importance… the technique or the seater or the artists ego. That argument in my head leads to some lovely renderings.
Your work is known to straddle the divides between fashion, performance and many more disciplines. What is your ultimate goal?
Transcending all boundaries that have been put on who and what one should create.
The monogram you use ‘AP’, seems to be derived from Albrecht Dürer?
Nice spotting, yes Dürer is the reference. A big part of the work is appropriation and ultimately subverting the “western art library”. In this case I am always interested in this “I am the one and only”, self-centric way of creating or rather I am totally disturbed by it. The logo is for Athi-Patra Ruga and studios cc. The name of my company and studio. The “and studio” part alludes to the idea that collaboration forms a big part of my practice. I would like to continue with this point.
Does Athi-Patra mean anything specific?
No, it’s a brand like others. And a brand is the highest promise of good quality and superior concept.
It’s two nicknames of my birth name. I’ve been called those names all my life really. It’s as old as I can remember.
So where does the “evil little boy”, as you called yourself come from?
Well I don’t know… I embrace my evils and vices I suppose. As to where it comes from, let’s just say there are a lot of boys and girls think so… at some points I tend to believe it. [laughs]
I was born in a Bantustan, which is a puppet state created by the apartheid government, a dictatorship. In March 1984, on my 13th birthday, Biggie Smalls died. My mom was a midwife, my dad a sports journalist. My parents were gone for long stretches of time and I had to defend myself. It seemed natural, it was one big ball of trauma. I grew up in the townships and during the strikes and boycotts. Many kids [or rather young adults] used to brutalise us for going to suburban/private schools. I spent most of my time indoors as many kids could not cope with me: I was violent in a violent time. Both at home and outside, the country was going through a revolution.
Athi-Patra Ruga: "Idol Death Mask Series" 2009, Modeled Paper, Approx. 27cm x 23cm each Image courtesy of the artist and whatiftheworld gallery