Laying the foundation for children to discuss social issues against the backdrop of art

09 October 2019 - 13:07 By jacana media
'Explore! Awesome South African Artists' aims to help children aged nine to 15 to find their own SA art heroes.
'Explore! Awesome South African Artists' aims to help children aged nine to 15 to find their own SA art heroes.
Image: Athi-Patra Ruga

Authored by Dr Cobi Labuscagne, Explore! Awesome South African Artists is a literary treat for children. SA’s finest living contemporary artists, like Lady Skollie, William Kentridge, Nandipha Mntambo, Athi-Patra Ruga, Penny Siopis, Banele Khoza, Zander Blom and more, grace the pages of this mesmerising children’s book.

Children can jump into the flourishing local art scene, see it in bold colour and learn about the diverse journeys of the artists and curators featured alongside their fascinating works. For the curious child, the book lays a perfect foundation for discussing the social issues of the day against the backdrop of popular art and inspiring stories.

Explore! Awesome South African Artists will keep nine to 15-year-olds entertained and engaged for hours, with the aim of helping them find their own SA art heroes.

For the next few weeks we'll be taking a peek inside this remarkable book and featured artists. First up: Athi-Patra Ruga!

Athi-Patra Ruga

At home, with his family, Athi-Patra Ruga felt safe, understood and affirmed. That means that his parents loved him just the way he was and always encouraged him. Both his parents were political activists.

His father was a sports journalist and a boxing agent, which was rare in the Transkei. He did a lot to open the borders for boxing and became a hero to Athi.

His mother was a midwife. Athi was told by his parents that he was an amazing person and that he could be whoever he wanted to be. That made him feel good about himself.

But unfortunately, the world outside his home was not that friendly and accepting. He went through a lot of very difficult experiences because of who he was. He knew from a young age that he was queer. In high school he tried to protect himself from the bullies in woodwork class by taking home economics instead.

But his parents taught him: “There is a moment when people define who you are, and then there is a moment when you define yourself.” This is another way of saying it is not about what happens to you, but how you react to it.

He started going to art school in the afternoons in high school and learnt everything he could about art. Then he received a scholarship to study fashion in Johannesburg and opened a fashion studio when we was 19.

Making art started with him parading around downtown Johannesburg in the strange-looking clothes he made. A friend suggested filming and photographing these performances and so his art career was launched.

When this happened he felt ready.