Upcoming: Interior/Exterior / Dramatis Personae

Solo Exhibition
2 July - 16 August 2020

Exhibition Opening: Thursday 2 July 2020
Exhibition Closure: Sunday 16 August 2020

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

As a prologue to the exhibition a series of video conversations with the artist, discussing his process, will be released online.

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 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.



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.

Significant exhibitions and performances include: Kiss My Genders, Haywood Gallery, London; Ravelled Threads, Sean Kelly Gallery, Seattle; Art Afrique, Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris; Over the Rainbow, Performa 17, New York; An Age of Our Own Making, Holbaek, Denmark; Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community, Boston Centre for the Arts, Boston; AFRICA: Architecture, Culture and Identity at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Imaginary Fact at the South African Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale; African Odysseys at The Brass Artscape in Brussels; Public Intimacy at the SFMOMA, San Francisco; The Film Will Always Be You: South African Artists on Screen at the Tate Modern in London; and Making Africa at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Recent projects include Ruga’s collaboration with Christian Dior on designing two handbags for the fourth edition of the Lady Dior Art Bag.

His works form part of Private, Public and Museum Collections in South Africa and abroad, namely: the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, Washington DC; The Zeitz MOCCA; Museion – Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Bolzano Italy; CAAC – Pigozzi Collection; The Wedge Collection; and the IZIKO South African National Gallery.