South African artist Athi Patra Ruga talks about the fantastical multi-media performance project that the Bass Museum of Art invited him to present on Miami Beach. Choreographed with local dancers, The Future White Women of Azania is a jubilant ceremonial enactment. The artist immerses us in the fantastical rituals of a utopian world where all are free to reveal their personal identity.
Presented in Africa, Europe, and, now, the U.S., Ruga’s serialized performance takes place in the imagined kingdom of Azania, the name given to the southern tip of Africa in 14th century accounts of travel to the continent. During the Apartheid era, black activists in South Africa referred to their country as Azania to make a power statement.
Rituals that revolve around clothing have always inspired Ruga’s performance. He distances himself from what he considers the drag cliché of flamboyant cross-dressing—opting, instead, to focus on shape shifting. His version of drag draws on the traditional African belief in the spiritual essence of animals, plants, and natural phenomena. In The Future White Women, brightly colored balloon characters and flower figures perform against a backdrop of projected video animations featuring butterflies hatching and exotic animal processionals. Fashion, nature, cultural history, and contemporary art all come together in Ruga’s vivid celebration of human rights.