23 Mar CRAFT, COMMENTARY AND A DIOR CAPSULE with ATHI-PATRA RUGA
The world is catching on to something creatives from Africa have known all along: “We’ve always been amazing”. One of these, ATHI-PATRA RUGA, is an artist that should be on everyone’s lips – a vanguard championing the creative relevance of Africa to the world. This includes a just-released, striking collaboration with Christian Dior.
Where once, the lens of colonialism required Africa to measure itself against the values of beauty or creativity from the Western world, today artists from the continent (and particularly South Africa – since having unshackled themselves from duty-bound “Struggle Art”) have simply gotten on with the job of making art, on their own terms, for their own audiences.
Just to be clear, just because there is a joy in the celebration of heritage and culture, which the world now finds oh-so-cool, it does not mean artists have forgotten where they come from.
ATHI-PATRA RUGA is young, black, gay, highly successful, brazenly intelligent and talented. His latest offering, a collaboration with the House of Christian Dior is a vivid, swirling blur of high fashion and high Art. He designed two bags for the Dior Lady Art project, the fourth edition of the capsule collection, which has been available in 20 Dior stores since January 2020.
The pieces: The “Lady Dior” bag with a ghostly 3-D self-portrait composed of pearls, framed by crystals, fabric and metal flowers, all embroidered on a black background together with jewelry in yellow gold-tone metal. The second, the Mini “Lady Dior” bag comes in blue lambskin embellished with pearls, sequins, crystals, tubes and a quilted satin scallop motif (inspired by founder Christian Dior’s famed Junon gown). The bag’s leather inlays of different colours – with jewelry in yellow gold-tone metal and a hand-hammered finish – draw inspiration from Ruga’s 2019 show “Of Gods, Rainbows and Omissions” with his grandiose and epically embellished, three-breasted statue, “The Beatification of Feral Benga”, a clear departure point and inspiration.
In his work, Ruga explores and critiques post-apartheid South Africa as well as its colonial past, interrogates the present and proposes a possible humanist vision of the future. His aesthetic is sublimely beautiful, transcendent in its opulence and unapologetically queer.
“Fuck everyone else’s sculptures… South Africa was freed by the youth and by the women.
Where are the statues of them?”
– Athi-Patra Ruga.
Back to the bags and, in weaving an articulate commentary into textile design and craftsmanship, Ruga visually illustrates his words: “Once you talk about the subject of textile art, we have to speak about the fact that it is highly gendered. Once one speaks of it reaching a tipping point, we are speaking about, and actually probably also indicting, the arts and creative industries for having quite a sexist view of craftsmanship.”
Athi Patra-Ruga studied fashion design at the Gordon Flack Davison Academy of Design in Johannesburg, South Africa, which, he says “is a school that is very much based on technical brilliance, constructing everything by hand.” This superlative approach and reverence to craft – an almost spiritual harkening to the beauty of African craftwork & expression – is translated into his finished products. The Dior bags-as-art-pieces-as-bags is the realisation of perfection and a true meeting of minds between the artist and the design house.
Such is the indisputable power and significance of African creativity, story-telling and aesthetic that – on the heels of illustrator wunderkind, Karabo Poppy, collaborating with Nike and now Athi-Patra Ruga with Christian Dior – the continent is set to further shape and inspire global culture on an epic scale.