When asked during an interview, “Why the name ‘Of Gods, Rainbows and Omissions’”, Athi Patra Ruga answered:
“I wanted to introduce to London a definitive body that speaks about men and the ideologies we put in power. My life’s work is then to create safe spaces (I’m getting bored of the word utopia), where me and my allies can pay tribute to those non-binary black modernists that history omitted out.”
Until January, the South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga will be holding his first UK solo exhibition in Somerset House.
“In the maze-like Somerset House, Ruga dazzles with his talent in mastering a variety of artistic mediums.”
The exhibition opened in tandem with the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair and continues to break glass ceilings after the gallery booths have been closed and all packed up. In the maze-like Somerset House, Ruga dazzles with his talent in mastering a variety of artistic mediums. From photography to tapestries, a film installation, and sculpture, his ability to communicate diverse themes through the array of artistic mediums is remarkable.
Ruga’s work engages with issues of gender and identity making in post-apartheid South Africa. He explores this by creating alternative histories that put previously peripheral narratives on nationhood, sexuality and gender identities at the centre. Ruga’s articulation of these themes shine through his explosive artistic imagination in his photography, like in Night of the Long Knives I (2013).
In his tapestry series The BEATification of Feral Benga (2017-), he pays homage to the Senegalese queer icon of the 1920s. The series Queens in Exile (2015-2017) is Ruga’s tribute to important female figures that were excluded from South African national narratives, weaving them back into the centre. His sculpture uMabele-bele really takes the spotlight with its incredibly ornate gold flowers, red, silver beads and jewels, rounding off the exhibit beautifully.
The richness of colour and ideological charge of Ruga’s pieces make the works reverberate off each other across all the rooms – not an easy feat for an artist exhibiting in a segmented standardized gallery space like Somerset House. Of Gods, Rainbows and Omissions is an amazing opportunity for Londoners to get a glimpse into South Africa’s bustling contemporary arts scene – a must-see.
ALEXANDRA BATE, BA SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY AND HISTORY OF ART