Radical Looking

By Richard Kilpert

Athi-Patra Ruga (What If The World) in conversation with Irma Stern artworks at the iconic painter’s former home.

31 March – 18 June 2022

I was thrilled that this show’s run has been extended and that I could attend the repeat of the walkabout by the artist who has been in residence at Irma’s house for the first three months of the year.

On a chilly Saturday morning Athi-Patra Ruga was in fine form to cajole the groupies who thronged the living room to hear about his creative adventures. Introduced by director Nadja Daehnke, the artist enlightened us as to his approach to this unique residency, of his admiration for the output of Irma Stern, and swept us around the house pointing out how he had intervened with the “permanent” displays in the museum.

Although I appreciated the ironic placement of his Gucci loafers in the cabinet of curiosities, my favorite works were his portraits in conversation with Stern. He described how he created fictitious personae, then made “real portraits” of them in response to Stern’s famous portraits of real people who remain anonymous, thus removing the agency of the sitter.

He described how his practice has come full circle since his high school discovery of Marion Arnolds history of art book in 1999. Ruga indulged in this novel 3-month residency period, and has created a new series of paintings and pastel drawings in response to the museum collection and archival materials. His paintings form a dialogue between the two artists, hoping to prompt a shift in the reading of both of their works.