The AfronautsCristina De Middel

(Self Published, 2012 )

The Afronauts is a re-imagined account of Zambia’s surreal attempt to place the first African on the moon. In 1964, at the height of the international space race, and only months after gaining independence from the UK, the Zambian National Space Agency was established. The project, not officially sanctioned by the Zambian government, was the fantastical vision of retired science teacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso, who had ambitions of his country conquering the surface of the moon and from there, catapulting his copper and aluminium rocket onto Mars.

The bizarre training of the eleven astronauts involved hours of ritualistic walking upright on their hands after being packed tight in oil drums and rolled down hills– intended to simulate weightless lunar exploration. After the pregnancy of one of the young astronauts and a failed attempt to secure the funding from the UN, the program was abolished and Makuka Nkoloso’s dreams were left unfulfilled.

Weaving fact and fiction in a narrative of eccentricity, The Afronauts uses what appears to be archival material, with playful re-enactments that blur fantasy with documentation. Cristina De Middel’s playful photographs are influenced by the imagery of science fiction B-movies, but retain the intrigue of her photojournalism background, engaging with African cultural clichés and social prejudices.

Cristina De Middel explains, “We are most of the time given a post-colonial and condescending portrait of Africa and I wanted to show that while we may not share the same level of technology, we do share dreams.” The Afronauts is just that, the telling of an impossible but beautiful dream; and in this elegant and charming narrative, the distinction between what is real and imagined is wonderfully irrelevant.

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