While researching strange experiments from the 1950s, Spanish photographer Cristina De Middel stumbled across the Zambian space program – a wildly ambitious project by a Zambian school teacher, Edward Makuka, who attempted to put the first African on Mars in 1964. Makuka put 12 students and one cat through a rigorous training program, with the intention of applying for a £7,000,000 grant from UNESCO. He even went so far as detail a plan for contact with martians, specifiying that they should not enforce Christianity upon them. Needless to say he was not awarded the grant and the mission was dropped.
In a series of photographs titled ‘Afronauts’ the London-based artist recreated this mission, in the style of an historical docudrama. She then published a book of her photographs alongside sketches and photographs from the time. The limited-edition book has been wildly successful amongst collectors with prices rising up to $3,200.
Of the project Cristina 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 photographer has also worked as a photojournalist an industry that relies on photography to tell certain truths. Africa is a deeply complex continent, with many preconceptions of it circulated in Western media. Cristina aimed to set aside these ideas, to tell a warm and positive story of hope. But she acknowledges that the responses to her photographs are far more complex. It is hard not to be amused by the story of ‘Afronauts’, but these are the very prejudices at play that the artist is trying to not only bring to light, but to dispel.