This October, Somerset House and 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair will present new and rarely seen works from the internationally renowned South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga. In what will be his first major solo UK exhibition, Ruga will reveal a mythical world which challenges perceptions of cultural identity and parodies the construction of the South African nation-state, in the post-apartheid era.
Born in Umtata, South Africa, and now based in Cape Town, Ruga is the figurehead for a new generation of South African artists, using myth and alternate realities as a contemporary response to the country's past. Throughout his career, Ruga has adopted avatars and created characters through whom he addresses ideologies, social and state structures, and the politics of gender inequality. By adopting these characters, he has been empowered to confront the complex truths of his nation's colonial history, post-colonial present, and his own personal experiences as a gay Xhosa man.
Ruga's signature use of kaleidoscopic colour characterises his African utopia of Azania, as seen in the first body of work exhibited, The Future White Women of Azania. Addressing the place of queerness in society, the characters that inhabit this world are in a state of transformation, seem most strikingly in the figure of the Future White Woman whose cocoon of multi-coloured balloons challenges concepts of race and identity.
In Queens in Exile, Ruga further explores this land where the once-exiled now reign, their fate beautifully stitched into his large-scale tapestry canvases, and depicted in Over the Rainbow, a short film piece which will be screened in the exhibition.
Athi-Patra Ruga: Of Gods, Rainbows and Omissions will launch at Somerset House on 4 October 2018 and run until 7 January 2019.