Part of artist Athi-Patra Ruga’s series The Future White Women of Azania, the cross stich tapestry Uzuko shows a young black woman in a provocative pose.
Surrounded by strong colours and artificial flowers, and wearing only a swimming suit and a sash, she appears to be competing in a beauty pageant in the fictitious country of Azania. The term Ruga chose for this fictitious country, Azania, has its origins in the anti-apartheid movement, when the Azanian People’s Organization was formed – among other things, they advocated and described an ideal future South Africa. Pliny the Elder was the first person to refer to this place in his work Naturalis historia, and the term is still being used today in connection with utopias and African secessionist ambitions. In The Future White Women of Azania series, Ruga projects this myth onto the processes of social transformation of the post-apartheid era. However, the artist does not create a colourful dreamland full of contentment and harmony; upon closer inspection, the picture’s superficial blaze of colour opens up to reveal an abyss of insecurity and tumult. The characters Ruga has created satirize the Eurocentric behaviour of a new black middle class, posing critical questions about gender roles, excessive materialism and contemporary African identity.