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Athi-Patra Ruga’s Bold Vision Takes Center Stage at Expo Chicago 2023

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Athi-Patra Ruga is a South African artist who creates works that confront and critique the colonial history of his country. Ruga’s works feature highly constructed environments and glamorous avatars that are an amalgam of spiritual figures and celebrities. He imagines a utopian future free of social norms and engages with themes of queerness, generational trauma, and liberation.

In 2013, Ruga’s inclusion in the country’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale cemented his status as one of South Africa’s preeminent artists. He has featured his work in solo exhibitions at the Bass Museum of Art, Performa 11 and 17, and more. Ruga’s multimedia series, “The Future White Women of Azania,” explores the possibility of a truly free, decolonized Africa.

The Future White Woman of Azania, 2012. Inkjet Print 66 × 100 cm. Image courtesy of Athi’s Instagram.

He engages with themes of queerness, generational trauma, and liberation. Ruga’s art is a powerful tool for challenging the colonial legacy of South Africa and envisioning a more equitable future. At the Whatiftheworld gallery’s booth at Expo Chicago 2023, Ruga’s works are on display. Ruga’s art often features flamboyant costumes and sets that challenge traditional notions of gender and identity. In “The Future White Women of Azania,” Ruga reimagines power dynamics. As such, he creates a mythology of a future in South Africa where traditional gender roles are upended.

Ruga’s art confronts the violent history of South Africa’s colonial past while imagining a more inclusive future. His works explore themes of identity and belonging, as well as the legacies of trauma and oppression. Ruga’s art invites viewers to imagine a world free of the constraints of colonialism. The audience can envision a future where all people are free to be themselves.

In his multimedia works, Ruga often incorporates references to pop culture and contemporary fashion, reimagining these cultural touchstones through the lens of his utopian vision. His avatars often take on the form of otherworldly beings, transcending traditional notions of race, gender, and identity. Ruga’s art challenges viewers to imagine new possibilities for themselves and their communities.

 I Wanda Nokwanda Wakanda, 2023, Thread, lurex, and flocatti on tapestry canvas 4 | 122.5 × 87 × 6.5 cm. Image courtesy of Athi- Patras Instagram

Ruga’s art is a powerful testament to the resilience and creativity of South Africa’s artists, who have used their work to challenge the legacy of apartheid and envision a more equitable future. By engaging with themes of queerness, generational trauma, and liberation, Ruga’s art invites viewers to reimagine their own place in the world and envision new possibilities for themselves and their communities. Ruga’s works are a must-see for anyone interested in contemporary art that challenges traditional power structures and uplifts marginalized voices.


Rose Mwikali Musyoki is a creative writer from Nairobi, Kenya. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Business and Finance from the University of Embu, Kenya, and is the founder of Bloom Inc, an art startup in Kenya. Currently, she works as a writer for Art News Africa.

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