By Cory Doctorow at 8:47 am Sun, Feb 3, 2013
Rick sez, "Spanish photographer Cristina De Middel's fictional documentation of a failed 1960s space programme in Zambia - The Afronauts - has just been nominated for the 2013 Deutsche Borse photography prize."
Zambia's first (unofficial) space programme
“As a photojournalist I have always been attracted by the eccentric lines of storytelling, avoiding the same old subjects told in the same old ways.”
She nailed it. With a unique and interesting idea, there is no need for the typical artist rhetoric, puked up by so many others. The work speaks for itself.
But then she goes for the the typical artist rhetoric, ” “The images are beautiful and the story is pleasant at a first level, but it is built on the fact that nobody believes that Africa will ever reach the moon. It hides a very subtle critique to our position towards the whole continent and our prejudices.” says De Middel.”
It’s the standard “it’s this, but it’s really not, it’s some other deep thing.” that is routinely trotted out for new art.
My first thought about all this was that the photo essay was a kind of unfortunate, wry and semi-subtle (or unintentional?) sarcasm/putdown, or could certainly be seen as such. The incongruity of it seems…perhaps (?) uncool. Like in the original “Christmas in Connecticut”: there’s a scene where a black busboy or waiter is asked what the word “catastrophe” means, and he very unexpectedly, clearly and well-spokenly enunciates a fine definition of the word. The humor of the scene, I suspect for most people of that time period, was akin to “haw haw haw, blacks don’t talk that good in real life”. Same thing (maybe?) here: the idea of a space program in Zambia is, for first-worlders, like the idea of a brain surgeon operating out of a grass hut with dirt floor…on an operating table made out of coconuts or something. A kind of charming, endearing Cargo-cultlike, childlike hopefulness…which is very patronizing. Maybe I’m wrong though. Thoughts?
My thought: You’re absolutely right.
It was my first thought. Not, “haha how cute, African tribespeople dressing up as astronauts” but that the artist wanted me to think that.
So for me, I was glad the artist’s statement was up front about it. It is thought-provoking… a little, anyway.
The reality is that most African nations have no need (never mind the funds) to demonstrate intercontinental ballistic missile capability, which is what the space race was all about in the first place.
I don’t feel like the photographer was purposely looking to offend, but I do completely understand that impression. I suppose it is up to the viewer. I saw some honesty in the work, showing more of a soul than a black and white newsprint headline can convey.
At the very least it has provoked reaction, gets people thinking.
Yeah, you are wrong. This falls squarely into a current way of working and no one in the art world would see it as anything but sympathetic to Africans. Much of contemporary art is a critique of power structures and the inertia of culture. It is what is taught in art schools today. What is so refreshing about this work is that it has a fanciful surface that entertains instead of preaching. A long sought antidote to over-serious “schoolish” work.
The idea crossed my mind at first, but looking at the full set ( http://www.lademiddel.com/eng/ldmeng.html ), I feel there’s a warm humanity to it, combined with a genuine attempt to imagine how the imagined program would look, with the goal being good-looking images. And it looks lovely.
There’s also something there about the DIY culture that people develop when they have an awareness of, but not access to, modern tech. Places like Zambia can serve as great examples of how inventive we are when we have to be.
I do agree that some people might enjoy the pictures in a sneering kind of way, but there’ll always be assholes like that. I’d like to know what a Zambian thinks, to be honest.
Lol, I missed that.
That really isn’t such a stretch. The error is in saying it at all which people really resent. Leave the sub-text sub, that is where it belongs.
Space is one cold motherfucker.
Yes, but that was back in 1957, 1958. It was a different time, you understand.
absolutely beat me to it! exactly what I thought when I saw the BB headline! :D
On a related, but considerably fiercer, note, “Coon on the Moon” – Howlin’ Wolf
a rat done bit my sister Nell–
and Whitey’s on the moon.
Awesome! I’d forgotten that one.
Zaïre (Congo) Had a “real” space program:
From : “Mobutu King of Zaïre” (Mobutu, Roi du Zaire)
It struck me as odd that the countdown was in German, so I looked a bit further: http://weirdthings.com/2010/12/a-brief-history-of-the-congolese-space-program/ — A German company wanted to get into the rocket business, so decided to launch from Zaire. Zaire was very supportive, but it was mostly a German initiative.
What was that all about? And has there ever been a successful launch to orbit from anywhere in Africa?
That is one stylin’ space suit!
So are they using surplus elephants from the Indian space program then?
Given the subject matter, I’m surprised no one has referenced Ray Bradbury’s “Way in the Middle of the Air” in The Martian Chronicles (or the follow-up story, “The Other Foot” in The Illustrated Man.)
Zambia is where zombies come from.
No, that’s Zomibia.
Really nice images, you can see more of the set here: http://www.lademiddel.com/eng/ldmeng.html
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