Black Panther’s box-office success story has suddenly cast a lot of global interest towards artistic impressions that paint the African continent in a different light to that portrayed by colonial discourse.
However, even before the success of this Marvel movie, South African Athi-Patra Ruga has been artistically reconstructing the narrative of the continent’s identity.
For this work, Ruga has won the grand prize at the Rencontres de Bamako, the African biennale of photography for his “Afrotopian” narrative of the continent’s identity.
Ruga who is known for his stirring, flamboyant performance art and photography that challenges societal norms won this prestigious award which is co-organised and co-produced by Mali’s ministry of culture and l’Institut Français at this year biennale held at the Bamako National Museum in Mali.
€5000 (about R72 000) prize money was up for grabs for work featured in the Pan-African exhibition, which showcased photography from 40 African artists, each depicting their alternative narratives and perceptions of Africa, past and present.
This year’s biennale was entitled “Afrotopia”, focusing on how artwork reflects the continent’s identity. This was right up Ruga’s alley as he has become synonymous with work that uses performance, video, textiles, and printmaking to explore notions of utopia and dystopia.
The Night of the Long Knives. Picture: WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery
Born in 1984, Ruga’s interpretation of Afrotopia was centred around the idea of “Azania”, a word borrowed from Arab sailors who up until the 10th century used it to denote an ancient east African society, but was later adopted by black nationalist organisations during apartheid to denote a liberated South Africa.
“In the spirit of this body of work, I dedicate this award to all the queer queens in exile across the continent. It’s great and all to propose new utopias but the inspiration of the work comes from gendered communities that fight every day to exist in the present,” said Ruga.
Ruga had two pieces exhibited at the event, both from his series, The Future White Women of Azania.
Wool and thread on tapestry canvas by Athi-Patra Ruga. Picture: WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery
Next in his sights is “presenting his solo exhibition The BEATification Of Feral Benga at the Armory Show in New York,” said Ruga in reference to New York City’s premier art fair.
The Future White Woman of Azania. Picture: WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery