The Future White Womenby Dudumalingani Mqombothi / 09.12.2013
On November 27, 2013, an exhibition titled The Future White Women of Azania by Athi-Patra Ruga opened at the What If The World gallery on 1 Argyle Street in Woodstock. Argyle Street is anaemic, choosing to join the main road, Albert Road, from only one side. From the gallery, it stretches back into suburban Woodstock and then further up the road, it disappears. On that particular day, something had enraged the wind and out of anger, it molested me. I watch a plastic bag rise and rise into the sky and disappear behind a reddish tall building. Everything is art. Nothing is art.
The Future White Women of Azania gives off in the title alone an impression of a narrative that resuscitates a dead past. And then fucks with it.
In front of the main entrance, a figure (whose sex is hard to determine) lies on the ground covered in flowers and standing above is a figure with round, multicoloured balls wrapped to cover the body from the waist up. In other pieces the balls transform into balloons, and the figure into a human. The figure’s legs resemble that of a man, at least the conventional idea of a man with a big calf and thighs; yet there is something feminine about them.
A piece of paper with text on it that seeks to make sense of the exhibition is handed to me when I enter the gallery. I do not read it because I have no interest in what the artist is trying to say or intends to say with the artwork. In fact I find such explanations problematic. My interest in galleries is in the generic bond, or detachment, that grows between the artwork and the visitor.
How long does one have to stare at a piece of art, before it begins to speak to them? Before it begins to demand that one feels something for it?
There is something beautiful about the silence that hangs in an empty gallery, bouncing from one wall to the other, crawling out of every opening it finds, sitting itself unto the visitor’s ears from the roof. It allows for an intimate relationship with the art. It is crucial to appreciating art and to the ability to listen to the artwork. At the opening night of Athi Patra Ruga’s exhibition there were all breeds of people: the aloof, the pseudo bohemians and downright weirdos. Elsewhere, downstairs, upstairs, outside, the sound of loud conversations hang in the air. If one found any stillness during the opening night, they were in an absolute concentration that renders even their own presence absent.
An artwork called “Invitation…Presentation…Induction” that is 300 x 175 cm in size: men with spears pointed towards an enemy. A man or a woman draped in flowers lies on the ground, on the same ground. Because flowers give an impression of peace and serenity, they contradict the battle that is depicted on the canvas. The piece throws one’s feelings into a frenzy. As if, emotionally, one is being inflicted pain and pleasure at the same time and are required to feel both.
In another piece, “Uzukile the elder”, that is 200 x 190 cm in magnitude, the artist camouflages himself in flowers that have been dipped in black paint and have a dull presence. What sticks out of the work and is a comment on sexuality and perception is that the artist has red tits.
The countries of Africa that have inherited their names from their colonialists have instead the names Nunubia, Sodom, Ghudaza, Narabia and are titled “The Lands of Azania”. These names also depict sins, as narrated in the bible.
In a completely white room, chairs face a screen showing a video installation. In this completely white room, a figure on the screen is draped in balloons and is punching them. The balloons are filled with liquids. The video plays in reverse, in slow motion and is accompanied by a haunting soundtrack. The spillage of the liquids and the reverse mode is visual interpretation of something that has fallen apart and by tracing or forcing the continent of Africa to trace back where they come from. In the video, the human figure in the hat is also attempting to unravel herself away from her many hats, the video ending on the cusp of the human figure unraveling their own identity.
I make my way downstairs and get a juice for my parched throat. The noise refuses to subside, laughter here and another there and a combination of voices that are not saying much. And then I am out into the wind. It hoists me up as it did to the rubbish in Woodstock.
* The Future White Women of Azania runs until the 8th February 2014 at the What If The World Gallery, Woodstock.