Irma & Athi … an intervention is a new exhibition of Athi-Patra Ruga’s art in conversation with Irma Stern artworks at the iconic painter’s former home.

Attracted by Stern’s technical ability, lavish use of colour, and the atypical life she led; Ruga casts a revisionist eye over her work whilst generating new interventions.

To further the dialogue between the two artists’ works, the UCT Irma Stern Museum (ISM) will host an exhibition where the works of both Irma Stern and Athi Patra Ruga will be installed alongside each other.

Irma & Athi at the UCT Irma Stern Museum
Irma & Athi at Irma Stern Museum

Residency at the ISM

The showcase will include new site-responsive works that Athi Patra Ruga produced during a three-month residency at the ISM, combined with select and loan works. The exhibition runs until 18 June, 2022. The show is accompanied by a series of walkabouts, talks and workshops.

The retrospective will feature select examples of Ruga’s iconic tapestries from the period 2009 – 2018 which reference paintings done by Stern during her 1943 and 1946 expeditions to central Africa.

Since 2008, Ruga’s work has been in conversation with the art of Stern, drawing on and reworking such iconic paintings as Stern’s Watussi Queen, Swazi Youth and Zulu Woman. Now Ruga is engaging with the famed painter at the intimate level of her former home. This project is part of an ongoing interest in the Stern oeuvre.

In his own rejoinders to Stern’s paintings, Ruga reassesses from a post-colonial stance. For instance, he gives Stern’s nameless and passive sitters – the paintings have unspecific titles like “Malay girl” or “Zulu Woman” – actual names and agency, disrupting the notion that these sitters’ primary function was as a tableau for European contemplation and consumption.

This response is situated within Ruga’s broader body of work, one that constitutes a contemporary response to the post-apartheid era, and which critiques the existing political and social status quo. According to art consultant Mary Corrigall, his approach is “in some way an attempt to view the traumas of the last 200 years of colonial history from a place of detachment … where wounds can be contemplated outside of personalized grief and subjective defensiveness.”

Ruga’s oil stick and pastel works on canvas will be hung among Stern pieces in the museum, deepening the invitation to the viewer to compare and consider. As part of the exhibition, he will present a number of learner engagements and walkabouts.

For more information, see here.

Walkabouts with Athi Patra Ruga
9 April 2022 from 10.30am – 12.30pm
12 May 2022 from 2pm – 4pm
Book via

Discussion with Athi Patra Ruga and guests:
14 May 2022 from 10.30 – 12pm (R160)
Book via at R160 pp.

Walkabouts with ISM Director:
13 April 2022 from 10.30am – 12.30pm
3 May 2022 from 2pm – 4pm

Old Meets New practical art-making workshops with ISM Curator and Educator:

24 May 2022 from 11.30 – 1pm
4 June 2022 from 11.30 – 1pm
Book via at R250 pp.

What: Irma & Athi …an intervention – An exhibition at the UCT Irma Stern Museum in collaboration with WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery
Where: UCT Irma Stern Museum Rosebank Cape Town
When: 31 March 2022 and runs until 18 June 2022
Info: 021 650 7240,