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Over the Rainbow
Athi-Patra Ruga
Artwork 2017
Installation photograph from ‘Crossing Night: Regional Identities x Global Context’ exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. On the left, Athi-Patra Ruga’s video ‘Over the Rainbow’ is displayed on a wall-mounted screen.
Installation view: Crossing Night | Regional Identities x Global Context curated by Josh Ginsburg, Jova Lynne and Larry Ossei-Mensah in Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, October 25, 2019–February 2, 2020. Image courtesy of Clare Gatto.
Artist Athi-Patra Ruga Title Over the Rainbow Date 2017 Materials Single-channel video Dimensions 9 min 20 sec Credit Artist and What if the World

Athi-Patra Ruga is an artist of baroque excess. Embellishments and high-gloss finishes characterise much of his work, be it photographic, performative or sculptural. The petit point tapestries, for which he is best known, are rich in colour and detail, sensual in their tactile materiality and bold in their imagery. Such is the artist’s vision of Azania, an African utopia of imagined abundance and indulgence. Ruga’s opulent – even flamboyant – practice centres on the allure of this lost paradise. It proves a compelling counterpoint with which to critique South Africa’s broken ‘rainbow nation’ promise. Ruga, who studied fashion, is particularly attuned to the agendas of aesthetic expression. “With my work,” he says, “I want to create new mythologies and stories to disrupt the body national – I want to disrupt elements of taste, especially when taste is used nationalistically.” Rather than social realism, he gives us kitsch. Rather than resistance art, he gives us sugar-sweet beauty. Hidden beneath this visual decadence is, however, the more serious weight of social criticism.

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