Athi-Patra Ruga


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 Dior on designing two handbags for the fourth edition of the Lady Dior Art Bag. Ruga is also the co-founder of  Victory of the Word, a fundraising and development project in support of the historic Lovedale Printing Press in Alice, Eastern Cape, as well as the Artistic Director of BODYLAND, an incubator residency for artists held in the Amathole Village, Hogsback.

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 Foundation Louis Vuitton,  Paris; Fondation Gandur pour l’Art,  Geneva; The Zeitz MOCCA, Cape Town; Museion – Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Bolzano Italy; CAAC – Pigozzi Collection; The Wedge Collection; and the IZIKO South African National Gallery.

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2020 iiNyanga Zonyaka, Norval Foundation, Cape Town
Interior/Exterior / Dramatis Personae - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
2018 Of Gods, Rainbows and Omissions, Somerset House, London
Things We Lost In The Rainbow, Performance (in collaboration with The Institute of Creative Arts), Cape Town
2017 Queens in Exile 2014-2017 - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
2016 Athi-Patra Ruga, Bass Museum of Art, Miami
2015 A Land Without A People… For A People Without A Land, In Situ, Paris
The Elder of Azania, Grahamstown National Arts Festival, Grahamstown
2014 The Future White Women of Azania Saga - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
2012 Ilulwane, Solo Presentation at Long Street Baths, Cape Town
2011 Ilulwane Performa 11, New York City, New York
2010 Teeth are the Only Bones that Show, WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Athi Patra Ruga: The Works, FRED Gallery, London, England
The Body In Question IV: La Momma Morta, YOUNG BLACKMAN, Cape Town
2009 After He Left, YOUNG BLACKMAN, Cape Town
Mister Floating Signifier and the Deadboyz, WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
2008 ..of bugchasers and watusi faghags, Art Extra, Johannesburg

Selected Group Exhibitions

2022 Material Echos WITW Amsterdam - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Seeds of the Fig - Twee Jonge Gezellen Wine Estate, Krone x WHATIFTHEWORLD, Tulbagh, South Africa
2021 This is not Africa - Unlearn what you have learned, ARoS Museum, Denmark
RESTUDIO, Cunningham Contemporary, Johannesburg
2020 Matereality, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town
Lumieres D’Afrique, Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg
Pretty Gucci Gorilla, with Kader Attia, Eternal Gallery, Tours, France
2019 Crossing Night: Regional Identities x Global Context, MOCAD (The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit), Michigan
Radical Love, Ford Foundation, New York
Transamerica/n: Gender, Identity, Appearance Today, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Not What You Want To See, Factoria Habana, Havana Biennale, Havana
Kiss My Gender, Hayward Gallery, London
2018 Soft Power, Transpallete Center for contemporary Art, Bourges, France
Dress Up, Speak Up: Costume and Confrontation, 21c, Louisville
Africa State of Mind, New Art Exchange, Nottingham
CLOSE, Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG), Johannesburg
Ravelled Threads, Sean Kelly Gallery, Seattle
The Fabric of Felicity, Garage Museum, Moscow
Continental Drift, Cairns Art Gallery, Australia
Embodied Politic, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago
2017 The BEATification of Feral Benga, Nordwind Performance festival, Berlin, Germany
Afrotopia, Les Rencontres de Bamako, Bamako, Mali
Dada Africa, Non-Western Sources and Influences, Musee de Orsay, Paris
Everyday Anomaly - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Art Afrique, Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris
2016 Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community, Boston Centre for the Arts, Boston
Women's Work, IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town
An Age of Our Own Making, Holbaek, Denmark
2015 Studio: The Lives and Works of South African Artists, IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town
Foreign Bodies - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Queer Threads, Leslie & Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York
Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design, Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain
Lumières d'Afriques, Theatre National De Chaillot, Paris
Broken English, Tyburn Gallery, London
2015 Joburg Art Fair - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg
AFRICA: Architecture, Culture and Identity, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Louisiana
The Film Will Always Be You: South African Artists on Screen, Tate Modern, London
The Elder of Azania, Solo Performance at the Johannesburg Pavilion, 56th La Biennale di Venezia, Venice
2014 Uncertain Terms - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Brave New World...20 Years of Democracy, IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town
Public Intimacy, SFMOMA, San Francisco
PRÓXIMO FUTURO / NEXT FUTURE, Programa Gulbenkian de Cultura Contemporânea, Lisbon, Portugal
African Odysseys, The Brass Artscape, Brussels
2013 Films for Peace , Screened Worldwide including South Africa, Paris, London, New York, Sydney
Sharp Sharp, Johannesburg, Gaite Lyrique, Paris
The Beautyful Ones, Galerie Nolan Judin, Berlin
Imaginary Fact, 55th La Biennale di Venezia, South African Pavillion, Venice
Between the Lines, Braunschweig University of Art, Berlin
Making Way: Contemporary Art from South Africa and China, Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg
2012 A SHOT IN THE ARSE, The Michaelis Gallery, Cape Town
Under a Tinsel Sun, The III Moscow International Biennale For Young Art, Moscow, Russia
Neither Man Nor Stone, IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town
Making Way, in collaboration with Mikhael Subotzky, National Arts Festival, Grahamstown
2011 BECOMING: Photographs from the Wedge Collection, Nasher Museum of Art, North Carolina, USA
A Tribute to Photography, Primo Marella Gallery, Milan, Italy
Living as Form Exhibition, New York
2010 From Pierneef to Gugulective, IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town
For Those Who Live in It - Pop culture Politics and Strong Voices, MU Foundation, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
DADA South?, IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town
X HOMES, Performance Art Series, Johannesburg
Africa, Assume Art Position, Primo Marella Gallery, Milan, Italy
2009 A Life Less Ordinary; Performance and Display in South African Art, Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham, UK
Beauty and Pleasure in Contemporary South African Art, Stenersen Museet, Oslo, Norway
Infecting the City, Cape Town CBD
Spot on Dak’Art
2008 Retrospective, IFA Gallery, Berlin, Germany
Pret a Partager (More than the sum of its parts), IFA Gallery, Stuttgart, Germany
Big Wednesday, WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
2008 Peripheral Vision and Collective Body, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Bolzano, Italy
Disguise: The Art of Attracting and Deflecting Attention, Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town
Upstairs/Downstairs, Association of Visual Arts, Cape Town
The Trickster, Art Extra, Johannesburg

Art Fairs

Cape Town Art Fair 2024
1-54 London 2023
FNB Art Joburg 2023
Expo Chicago 2023
Cape Town Art Fair 2023
Miart 2022
1-54 London 2022
Joburg Art Fair 2022
Art Rotterdam 2022
Expo Chicago 2022
Cape Town Art Fair 2022


Seydou Keïta Prize (Grand Prize) of Les Rencontres de Bamako

Selected Publications

2014      F.W.W.O.A SAGA
2012      The Works 2006-2013