Athi-Patra Ruga on his ex­tra­or­di­nary creative process

House and Leisure (South Africa) - - Contents - COM­PILED BY LYNETTE BOTHA PRO­DUC­TION ATHI-PATRA RUGA PHO­TO­GRAPH HAY­DEN PHIPPS Im­age fea­tures ‘The Thud of a Snowflake’ (high-den­sity foam and ar­ti­fi­cial flow­ers) by Athi-Patra Ruga.


The creative process be­gins with a lot of draw­ing and writ­ing. From then on­wards I edit so as to aug­ment the in­tended sto­ry­line for a pre­sen­ta­tion. Life is pixel­lated to me, so that makes it eas­ier to trans­pose my sit­ting sub­jects. This process can range from three months to four years.


Like my part­ner’s kiss and my friends’ suc­cesses, re­ceiv­ing the in­vi­ta­tion to rep­re­sent South Africa at the 55th Venice Bi­en­nale made me weak in the knees. I was only 27 years old and it was a life-chang­ing mo­ment for the stu­dio. See­ing school­child­ren en­gage with and re­act to my sculp­ture trib­ute to Si­mon Nkoli (cur­rently at the Zeitz MOCAA) brings en­ergy to my legs – move­ment – as I wish some­one had been telling those sto­ries to me as a kid.


My hands are a tes­ta­ment to the many peo­ple who have in­flu­enced me in this di­rec­tion: from learn­ing pe­tit point em­broi­dery from my Ger­man home eco­nom­ics teacher Mrs Frauen­stein to my three years at Gor­don Flack Dav­i­son Academy that pre­sented me with a very metic­u­lous hand­work-ori­en­tated course – I learnt many tech­ni­cal rules about the warp and weft of fab­ric. With my hands, I man­aged to re­store a medium that was wan­ing in pop­u­lar­ity and orig­i­nally per­ceived as fem­i­nine, prein­dus­trial and docile. I was able to ar­tic­u­late my per­sonal and gen­er­a­tional story while em­ploy­ing the high­est level of tech­nique, one that I am also pass­ing down to fu­ture artists.


I con­sider my­self a sto­ry­teller – or a dis­rupter of sto­ries. I feel we are in a coun­try that can still learn much from that uni­ver­sal medium, as it bridges so many com­mon threads of mytholo­gies and prin­ci­ples. In my work I em­ploy the Nguni tra­di­tion of

intsomi, and I shake their an­cient sto­ries so as to re­late them to my con­tem­po­rary com­mu­nity. I am fin­ish­ing up my first kids’ sto­ry­book that rein­tro­duces chil­dren to the months of the year – not the Gre­go­rian cal­en­dar, but that of the Nguni/Sotho na­tions.


My mind is ob­sessed with how I can ren­der the most em­pow­er­ing, so­phis­ti­cated and ver­nac­u­lar sto­ries about the his­tory and ex­is­tence of my re­spec­tive com­mu­ni­ties. This oc­cu­pies my con­science as it re­quires a lot of in­tegrity to­wards the sub­ject mat­ter and tech­nique.


I lis­ten to a lot of mu­sic that ex­presses the di­vine in African cul­ture, in­clud­ing clas­si­cal Xhosa com­poser Tiyo Soga and gospel group Oo­mama Base We­sile. An­other favourite artist of mine is harpist and cos­mol­o­gist Alice Coltrane – her work is pure ge­nius.


My mother, an Eastern Cape mid­wife, used to wear Aramis, which is tra­di­tion­ally a male fra­grance. Ev­ery time I pass a man wear­ing the scent, I smile as I am af­firmed in the long line of fire­brand women who in­flu­enced my adult out­look, from aes­thet­ics to civil rights. I wear L’Après-Midi d’un Faune by Etat Li­bre d’Or­ange as a trib­ute to the Bal­lets Russes and Claude De­bussy’s ‘Af­ter­noon of a Faun’, a col­lab­o­ra­tion that has had a price­less ef­fect on my work ethic, in memo­riam. Col­lab­o­ra­tion is im­por­tant as it opens your orig­i­nal story and themes to a demo­cratic process of sorts. athipa­tra

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