Athi-Patra Ruga: Decimation
June 26, 8-9:30 PM, The Museum of Contemporary Art -> Roskilde Festival Camping West
Athi-Patra Ruga presents the newly conceived performance ”Decimation” as a festive procession from the Museum of Contemporary Art to the Roskilde Festival grounds. Dressed up in lustrous outfits, a swarm of balloons, LED lights and heels, the core of the procession, invited drag-performers, will prepare and pose at the yard of the museum. Followers (audience) are encouraged to come along, granted sticks as the procession starts. On the way to the Festival grounds the troupe might grow or slim down. Mingling with the streams of people headed towards the festival area to camp, the “Decimation” procession will include new followers, yet in the end a selection process will take place. The destination of the procession is a sacredly decorated tree in the festival grounds, where objects and lights will be hanging down. Here everyone will assemble and there will be a ritual involving the audience and the sticks brought along, deciding who belongs and who does not in ‘the state of Azania’, a state in the making.
As background information ‘decimation’ as a concept refers to a mass punishment tool used by the Roman Army, where many hundreds soldiers were selected for punishment by decimation (the word in Latin meaning ‘a tenth of’ something, e.g. a group). They were divided into groups of ten; each group drew lots, and the soldier on whom the lot fell was executed by his nine comrades, often by stoning or clubbing.
Within the artistic universe of Athi-Patra Ruga, this is the “Decimation” chapter of the myth of “The Future White Women of Azania”. This is a myth in which he invents and treats alternate identities and marginalized life experiences, and creates different chapters with performances and tapestries. Ruga has, over the years, developed his work. In “The Future White Women of Azania”, he is turning his attention to an idea intimately linked to the apartheid era’s fiction of Azania – a Southern African decolonialised arcadia. This myth was developed by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), who appropriated the name in 1965 as the signifier of an ideal future South Africa.
In this performance, however, Ruga is speaking about “A Jazzy kinda decimation”, a playful way of softly shoving people in or out of the group with sticks or gestures. “It turns out that a decimation must be carried out on the Future White Women of Azania, whereby one member from ten sets of regiments is executed for the betrayals, desertion of the Azanians-in-Exile,” as Ruga explains. This is also the image of the current practice of nation-building, where issues of belonging and non-belonging are at stake, where “the National Body is somehow allergic to outside influenza,” as Ruga describes it.
Athi-Patra Ruga (1984) lives in Johannesburg and Cape town, South Africa. He showed “The Elder of Azania”, a solo performance at the Johannesburg Pavilion, 56th La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, and recently took part in the group show “AFRICA: Architecture, Culture and Identity”, at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Louisiana, Denmark. He also took part in Performa 11, New York, 2011.