Interior/Exterior/Dramatis Personae by Athi-Patra Ruga

WORDS Amelia Brown IMAGES Matthew Bradley, courtesy WHATIFTHEWORLD

For his new two-part solo exhibition, celebrated South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga has used stained glass as the medium and the mechanism for his masterful storytelling. 

For Interior/Exterior, Athi has created a series of stained-glass panels that question and reframe the “phenomenon of enlightenment”. Using a traditional storytelling medium that is so intrinsically linked to the church and theology, Athi subverts this associated morality by presenting new deities that would have been viewed as sinful and taboo within this context.

Swazi Youth (After Irma Stern)

These characters – taken from Athi’s Metaverse, fractured and captured in shards of colourful glass – are meant to be held up to the light; another deliberate act by the artist to reify figures that have been not just erased from history, but also lost to the public imagination.

Yellow Bone

Part 2, Dramatis Personae, unfolds as stained-glass tapestry. In this saga, Athi explores dualities – urban and rural life; traditional and modern identity – and the dreams and failures of a mythical Azania.

The tapestry entitled Ukutsiba uMgubasi, which translated means “ to jump/pounce the Porter/doorkeeper”, sees Athi’s young protagonist, Nomalizo Khwezi, one of the literary characters from the Lovedale Press collection, at the beginning of her Hero’s Journey, the stained-glass windows of a chapel in the background of the scene.

Ukutsiba uMgubasi

These tapestries form part of Athi’s Lunar Songbook Cycle (2018–), a trans-media body of work using motifs informed by astronomy and the Xhosa Calendar as expressions of more ecological ways of recounting time.

Athi is releasing a series of performance videos and conversations discussing his process through his multimedia channel APR Presents.

The exhibition is presented by WHATIFTHEWORLD, and will be available to be view at the gallery in Cape Town when the national lockdown is over. For now, check out Interior/Exterior ⁄ Dramatis Personae online at

Follow Athi on Instagram (@athipatra) and stay up to date with Interior/Exterior/Dramatis Personae content and news through @aprpresents and @whatiftheworld_gallery