In 1964, at the height of the international space race, and only months after gaining independence from the UK, a rather eccentric Zambian school teacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso established the Zambian National Space Agency with the fantastic vision of putting the first African on Mars. Nkoloso enlisted eleven astronauts and, according to some account, a few cats, and subjected them to hours of ritualistic training.
To train the astronauts, Nkoloso set up a makeshift facility seven miles from Lusaka, where the trainees, dressed in drab overalls with British army helmets, would then take turns to climb into a 44 gallon oil drum which would be rolled down a hill, bouncing over rough ground - intended to simulate weightless lunar exploration. After this they were forced to walk upright on their hands.
Nkoloso wrote an editorial for a newspaper describing his endeavors, in which he described how he had asked UNESCO for a (Zambian) £7,000,000 grant for his space program, and how he specifically instructed the missionary on board not to force Christianity onto the native Martian inhabitants if they didn't want it.
Nkoloso failed to secure the funding from the UNESCO and his ambitious space program had to be shut down. This was compounded by the fact that the 17-year-old teenage girl who was to ride on the mission got pregnant and was taken away by her parents.
Half a century later Spanish photojournalist Christina de Middel used this story as the basis for her book Afronauts in which she rebuilds the story and adapts it to her personal imagery. 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.”
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