PERFORMER AND ARTIST ATHI-PATRA RUGA SPILLS ON HIS INSPIRATIONS, TRAVEL AND NAPOLEON OBSESSION
imoved from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town to study fashion but switched to art and performance, as I could use my body to communicate the stories I wanted told.The idea of taking what you can get and using it for something great is what the discipline has taught me.
I learnt so much from the women around me, who had power interlaced with creativity and artistry. My mom wrote radio dramas where my dad worked, Radio Transkei.One of her first presentations was an adaptation based on the romance of Napoleon and his wife Josephine. I had an obsession with how the mere force of Napoleon’s personality defined his image. I recall powerful moments: my dad taking me to see the play Asinamali, by the ‘godfather of township theatre’, Gibson Kente, seeing the fall of the Berlin Wall fall in 1989 on Good Morning South Africa and the release of Tata Mandela in 1990. I felt I was living in history!
I have three major style influences: the Ballets Russes, [writer-activist] Nancy Cunard and Prince. I cannot live without my herringbone Hugo Boss coat, bought in Berlin earlier this year, my Givenchy ‘Madonna and Child’ sweat-top and a Laduma Ngxokolo piece. Nicholas Coutts also demonstrates how sustainable craft with a vision can be a feast for the eye. I fervently hope that we’ve shifted the focus from post-Afro chic to a commercially sound industry. However, I feel that our fashion colleges and the primary platforms after graduation do not sufficiently encourage a grasp of conceptual, historical and artisan sensibility.
Weekend getaways with my dearest people and the gong meditation sessions in Park Road, Gardens, are always a treat. My studio in Woodstock is without a doubt one of my favourite places; it is where I make my dreams come true. I am fascinated with things like scripted reality TV and pop culture. I have an obsession with malls – the euphoria that people experience and when it all breaks down: husbands lose patience, children throw fits etc. It’s so telling – you can learn something about society without having to engage anyone face to face.
Two artists who’ve influenced me are Nicholas Hlobo, who opened his Jo’burg studio to me, where I learnt my work ethic, and drag artist Dr Vaginal Davis, who lives performance with grace and ease. Her collaborations remind me that it is important for the creative community to break down borders around media and genres. My work allows me to travel. For the past three years I have attended the Hyères International Fashion and Photography Festival on the Cote d’ Azur. Venice blew me away last year when I was there for the Biennale. Music feeds my soul: just have a listen to Joanna Newsom’s epic ‘Have One on Me’. I am a man who believes that anything is possible; art-fashion-performance has no boundaries; and we are here only to set and push the next ones.
Left, right and below Some of Athi-Patra Ruga’s works – a striking combination of art, colour and performance.
Pictured AthiPatra Ruga at home,with some of his favourite décor, art and fashion pieces – and his cats.