Asked & Answered: Athi-Patra Ruga

19 Oct

I posted a one pic wonder of an artist I have been hoping to experience live.  Yesterday I ran into him on twitter and couldn’t resist wrangling an A&A for our reading pleasure.

I now hand you  Athi-Patra Ruga talking about Himself, where he has been, Art and the low down on Ilulwane, his soon to be performed show in New York this November.

What is the most memorable thing that you have ever heard about Botswana? Two things : a…The country was built on Beef and diamonds.

What is your first thought when someone says the word “Africa”? Black Sexx

What is it you love about being an artist? The fact that I can communicate graphically and use all media available to me to prove myself wrong.

Apparently you make, “ work that exposes and subverts the body in relation to structure, ideology, and politics.” So what does that mean to art virgins? Art Virgins …please explain.

South Africa is considered a young nation, when counting from after apartheid, as an artist living and working in a “fresh” country does that same “freshness” colour your work, or do you also delve into the apartheid years for some of your inspiration? When I think of South Africa , I make it a point to consider it’s entire history. So the advent of “democracy ” in the wake apartheid’s demise , is the proverbial cherry on top of the many achievements this country has made. Period. This adds colour more for me than wiping out many memories that have created an aesthetic. Anything contrary would be equivalent to propagating a fascism of sorts…ne?

What does an opportunity to perform in New York represent for a younger then Jesus artist from South Africa? I won’t lie : it has been a dream of mine to Perform in the United States…especially in a platform like PERFORMA. The opportunity that has been put in front of me can mean…that I have a chance to a…share in my experience with other cultures and b…to plain out flex my fabulosity hehe.

What sort of impact do you hope taking part in Performa 11 will have on your career? Already the studio participation in Performa has had an effect on the scale of the work I am now producing. It is a major step up in that regard. Also it will open up my practise to a dialogue with a wider spectra of other artists, future collaborators etc.

How did the collaboration between you and Spoek come about for Performa 11? I had been constructing the Ilulwane saga since 2008. And a big part of the performative works is that of the interrogation of western theatre history in relation to the visual displacement according to gender, race and collective histories basically. Music is the first thing that would come to mind when engaging with this above theme.

I first met Spoek in the Netherlands, we were doing a show there in 2010 and later in Buenos Aires. I believe from viewing his performances and listening to his musical trajectory that we would be perfect for a collaboration.

Spoek Mathambo is a semi Swede in that he has divided his life between Sweden and South Africa… which physical places have you divided your life between? I’ve lived in many places in my likkle life. I was born in Umtata, raised in Butterworth only to move to East London then a Jo’burg 8 year exile at which point I started travelling extensively while planning a move to cape town. There!

Which of your exhibitions are you most famous for? It’s still coming. Patience.

Which is your favourite exhibition and why? In 2008 I was commissioned to do a performative body work by the HEBBEL AM UFER theatres. The scale I was thrust into working in was unprecedented then, I had to prove my mettle, you know, and from that show came a body of work that has gotten the studio a lot of attention and has put me in a course that cannot entertain regression in my practise. I also got to meet one of my Art heroes Vaginal Davis, whose work is of great influence to me.

Which African countries would you most like to exhibit in and why? I believe I have had this dream come true already. I have shown in Niger, Dakar and my first exhibited art work Miss Congo was born in Kinshasa, my spiritual home.

Have you ever exhibited or held artistic interactions in the townships, what was the difference in reception to your work in contrast to say China or Stuttgart? I grew up eziPhunzane in East London , and I am a bit of an exhibitionist from long time. So Ya I have. A big part of my visual language comes from my growing up in the townships. More opportunities are always welcome as that will bring me closer to a full circle. Do lectures count?

Do artists always have to do or say relevant things with their art? Relevant to whom would be my top-of the-head response. However I do feel that in everything anyone does they must manifest the zeitgeist and be some conduit for relevant conversation. That is my opinion of course.

What is the importance of a viewing public for an artist? I believe it is of high importance. I hate art that separates people. Or artists who feel that they are beyond “wasting “their time with “the public”.  This is a sure-fire way of making yourself irrelevant.

Which artists do you recommend that we should know about? Jamal Nxedlana , Kalup Linzy , Terence Koh. And that’s that.

Who is the more stylish, @Skattie_What or @AthiPatraRuga? I do not engage much with @Skattie_What in that manner. It’s a persona I believe.

How was your life affected by the recent breakdown of the Blackberry services? My facebook news feed has been littered with the jokes…I find that was not relevant to me. I would like my facebook friends to stop tagging me in those jokes.

On reflection what did the reaction of Blackberry users say to you about our always connected society? Huh ???

What sort of an exhibition would like to put on in Botswana if you had no limitations?

Diamonds and Hanging Gallows. Another opera.

Last shot, what is Ilulwane about? Ilulwane is a  noun for a bat, it also is the word used [more often than not in a derogatory manner] to describe a young man who has forsaken the traditional rite of passage to manhood : called Ukwaluka [“to be herded”] he usually is given this name when he has opted for a hospital surgery instead.

With the abusive practices and botched circumcisions, that make their way to many a news bulletin around June and December [the season for the initiation school], that lead to the traumatized “abakhwetha” [initiates] seeking help in hospitals comes the backlash of being labeled “Ilulwane- neither bird nor mouse.”

Ilulwane is an overgrown castrati, he carries and shares the history of castratism in sub-Saharan Africa, the Vatican and that of the practise in the precolonial Arab slave trade.

So maybe I will just have to get Athi-Patra Ruga come on down and give the local art massive a much needed kick in the family jewels.

Photos – George Mahashe, @Skattie_what, Nadine Hutton

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