The Afronauts

By Floor Kortman

Cristina de Middel’s The Afronauts, an extraordinary series about the Zambian space programme, opens at Foam tonight. Our resident Foam insider previews the new exhibition.

Cristina de Middel – The Afronauts (13 September – 11 December)

cristina de middel

The Afronauts is a series by Spanish photographer Cristina de Middel about the Zambian space programme. They have a space programme in Zambia? Not really. But they almost did. When the United States and the Soviet Union were involved in a heated space race in the mid-20th century , trying to beat each other to the moon, an ambitious schoolteacher in Zambia vowed he would beat them all and started his own space program in 1964. He claimed that, ‘if everything went well’ he would send 12 astronauts and a cat to Mars by the end of the year. Unfortunately, despite all their efforts, the program failed.

These events may have caused reason to mock the weird exoticism and delusional impossibility of the technological ambitions of the Zambians, but de Middel’s series shows nothing of their failure. Instead she reconstructs a fictional world full of humor, with astronauts in neat, colorful suits and unexpected animal visitors. The photographs show a beautiful version of what could have been.

But we can’t talk about this exhibition without talking about the book. De Middel’s self-published, admittedly very appealing book with its cardboard cover, fine binding, matte printing, foldouts and inserts will make the heart of every photo book aficionado skip a beat, as did mine. Unfortunately, when the book was published in May 2012 in an edition of 1000, what happened was unprecedented; within two months the book was sold out and being offered on for 3000 dollars. Three thousand dollars. For a book. Now, I love books, especially photography books, but that is pretty ridiculous.

Yet, regardless of the hype, The Afronauts is actually really great. De Middel manages to tell a very personal, beautiful story without ridiculing the idea of Africans on the moon, instead offering a loving fictional portrait of an ambitious dream. So, for those of us who can’t afford the book, which does seem to have decreased slightly in popularity as a last amazon search proves it’s now only worth 2200 dollars, this exhibition at Foam is a damn good alternative. And it’s free for Subbacultcha! members.