All that glitters is not gold: Counter penetrating in the name of Blackness and queerness, or, Athi-Patra Ruga’s camp act in the dirt




Black queer identity, camp, Athi-Patra Ruga, performance


In this article I engage South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga’s artistic practice to flesh out the complexities that arise from the intersection of the terms Black and queer. Drawing on diverse historical, social and textual resources, I interpret Ruga’s dismantling of dominant post-apartheid and postcolonial narratives vis-à-vis a close reading of some of his provocative avatars. Ruga’s practices of staining, tainting and contaminating serve to expose the borders that produce conventional notions of race and gender. The article employs camp discourse in its allusion to performativity, displacement and artifice in order to 1) lay bare prevailing normative structures; and 2) dismantle conventional views of identity. To avoid being blindsided by camp’s flamboyance and ostentation, I propose a view that favours an intimate embroilment with dirt – a stance I argue may furnish camp acts with political intent and so help create a more sophisticated and comprehensive view on the juncture of Blackness and queerness. Relying on Ruga’s method of counter penetration as a way of fleshing out a hermeneutic view of Black queer subjectivity, I show how counter penetration in Ruga’s estimation is a subversive and transgressive act intent on contaminating and infecting conventional narratives of history, identity and politics.