Curatorial Voices: Modern and Contemporary Art from Africa

Live Virtual Auction, 28 February 2023

Curatorial Voices: Modern and Contemporary Art from Africa
About the Session

Curatorial Voices: Modern and Contemporary Art from Africa is a dynamic collaborative project conceived by Strauss & Co to address the need for diversified representation of artists from across the African continent in the secondary market. Curated by Strauss & Co Heads of Sale, Kirsty Colledge and Kate Fellens, with input by seven international art experts with embedded knowledge of Africa; Serge Tiroche, Valerie Kabov, Heba Elkayal, Danda Jaroljmek, Anne Kariuki, Dana Endundo Ferreira, Kimberley Cunningham. Curatorial Voices presents collectors with a broad selection of work by leading contemporary artists alongside select pieces by important historical artists.

  • Athi-Patra Ruga; Proposed Model for Tseko Simon Nkoli Memorial

Lot Estimate
ZAR 500 000 - 700 000

About this Item

South African 1984-
Proposed Model for Tseko Simon Nkoli Memorial
artificial flowers, high density foam, jewels, lightbulbs, and perspex, in a Perspex vitrine
height: 205,5cm; width: 106,5cm; depth: 134cm


Simon Tseko Nkoli, the individual honoured in this work by Athi-Patra Ruga, is an important figure in recent South African history. Nkoli combined anti-apartheid activism with fearless crusading for gay rights at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence. “I am black and I am gay,” stated Nkoli in 1990. “I cannot separate the two parts into secondary and primary struggles. In South Africa I am oppressed because I am a black man, and I am oppressed because I am gay. So, when I fight for my freedom, I must fight against both oppressors.”1

Fight he did. Nkoli was arrested in 1984 and, along with 21 other defendants, charged with treason in a protracted trial held in Delmas. He was acquitted in 1988. Nkoli formed the Saturday Group, the first black gay organisation in Africa, in 1984, and helped organise South Africa’s first lesbian and gay Pride march in 1990. Nkoli died of an AIDS-related illness in 1998.

Nkoli is an important figure for Ruga, who is openly gay and experienced the stern disapproval of his activist father. Honouring Nkoli is important to Ruga beyond his personal circumstances. “There is a concerted effort to wipe out the gay liberation movement from the struggle memoir,” Ruga has stated.2 The formal qualities of Ruga’s reclining gold figure bear notice. His work exemplifies an opulent, almost baroque, strand of figuration in contemporary South African sculpture, but also, in its honouring of the anti-apartheid and gay-rights activist of its title, bears out the interlinked focus on racial and gender struggle in Ruga’s vibrant multimedia practice.

When an edition of this sculpture appeared in the inaugural exhibition at Zeitz MOCAA in 2017, Ruga, who grew up in the Eastern Cape, posted a photo to Facebook. “This one is for that gay kid in East London,” he captioned it. “I gotchu!”3

1. Gibson Ncube (2022) ‘Simon Nkoli’s fight for queer rights in South Africa is finally being celebrated – 24 years after he died’, The Conversation, 24 November:

2. Sean O’Toole (2013) Interview with the artist, 21 October.
3. Athi-Patra Ruga (2017) Facebook post, 10 October.

Athi-Patra Ruga is one of the few artists working in South Africa today whose work has adopted the trope of myth as a contemporary response to the post-Apartheid era. Ruga creates alternative identities and uses these avatars to parody and critique the existing political and social status quo. Ruga’s artistic approach of creating myths and alternate realities is in some way an attempt to view the traumas of the last 200 years of colonial history from a place of detachment – at a farsighted distance where wounds can be contemplated outside of personalized grief and subjective defensiveness.

The philosophical allure and allegorical value of utopia has been central to Ruga’s practice. His construction of a mythical universe populated by characters that he has created and depicted in his work has allowed Ruga to create an interesting space of self-reflexivity in which political, cultural, and social systems can be critiqued and parodied. Ruga has used his utopia as a lens to process the fraught history of a colonial past, to critique the present and propose a possible humanist vision for the future.


WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town, 2017.

Private Collection.


Zeitz MOCCA, Cape Town, All Things Being Equal, 22 September 2017 to 30 June 2019, a similar example from this edition was exhibited and forms part of the Zeitz MOCAA permanent collection.

View all Athi-Patra Ruga lots for sale in this auction

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