Athi-Patra Ruga: Design is the discipline to art

In this interview, performance artist Athi-Patra Ruga talks about using his body to communicate political issues.

Athi-Patra Ruga is a performance artist living and working in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. He is known for exploring the borderlines between fashion, performance and contemporary art through work that exposes and subverts the body in relation to structure, ideology and politics.

At Design Indaba Conference 2014, Ruga gave a brief survey of his thought-provoking and often whimsical work.

After studying fashion design, Ruga learnt that the medium of fashion was not enough due to its transient nature: “Fashion is here today, gone tomorrow and I found that it was not political,” adds Ruga. He goes on to explain how he uses his body to talk about pressing issues, such as creation and what makes him create.

I want to find a space where I can use my body to communicate politics, says Ruga.

The Future White Women of Azania, Ruga’s longest and most engaging work to date creates a myth through performance: “It’s a place and a myth but somewhere in between it got lost and forgotten,” he adds. The work revolves around a character that lives in the centre of 250 balloons. All the balloons are filled with tiny objects that are revealed when the balloons are popped. 

For Ruga, the challenges that come with his line of work are strongly linked to democracy: “When I go into a public space to perform I don’t know how people will react, but I go into these spaces not to provoke but to solicit some kind of reaction,” he adds.

Design and the idea of taking what you can get and using it for greatness is what design as a discipline has taught me, he concludes. 

Watch the Talk with Athi-Patra Ruga, Nandipha Mntambo, Zanele Muholi, Hans Ulrich Obrist