Cape Town-based WhatIfTheWorld gallery’s description of Athi-Patra Ruga’s work, “Ruga undertakes the expansion of his metaverse, while highlighting his own black, queer and femme imaginaries: unrecorded, misrepresented, and forgotten in history,” is a kaleidoscope of words capturing the artist’s impactful work almost perfectly.
Born in Umtata, Ruga’s work offers alternative identities that those in towns much like the one he is from are not able to see themselves as.
“I knew that deifying the Blacks, the Queers, the Femmes would be what true art is: to dignify and enrich the experience of those who are depicted,” he has said. “Hopefully dignity is something that is restored once one sees themselves in the picture.”
Focusing on creating alternative realities within a world where queerness has been vilified is the basis of most of Ruga’s work, but he continues to push past what we believe is possible for us and uses his work to construct a utopia in which Black queer people are deities, beautifully encrusted with jewels or stained glass. A queer paradise where we are able to live openly, free of silencing powers and structures that crush our spirits.
“Good art is about giving dignity to the place where you got the stories, and I use my art to dignify, to console, to beautify, to deify people from that community which is deliberate in its existence. Deliberately Black, deliberately Queer, deliberately Femme,” Ruga offers us to words to live and create by.
Words: Tshegofatso Senne