Black Ship and Dillon Gallery are pleased to announce “The Afronauts,” an exhibition of Spanish born photographer Cristina De Middel. De Middel’s exhibition documents the little known Zambian attempt to reach space in the mid 1960’s. By combining her original photographs with both found and created documents and drawings, she focuses on the story telling of an unbelievable fact, while questioning the documentary value of photography. Freely navigating between fact and fiction, this series garnered critical attention as the winner of the ICP Infinity Award for Publication, 2013 and the first finalist for the Deutsche Börse Prize 2013. The immersive environment of the exhibition includes her photographs, drawings, sculptures, as well as the original artist made costumes and props used during the initial photo shoot. Her approach is closer to film making than documentary or classic photography, adopting reality to her own fictional needs. The installation introduces the virtually unknown true story of the 1964 Zambian space program.
In 1964, still living the dream of their recently gained independence, Zambia started a space program that would put the first African on the moon catching up the US and the Soviet Union in the space race. Only a few optimists supported the project by Edward Makuka, a schoolteacher in charge of presenting the ambitious program and getting the necessary funding. But the financial aid never came, as the United Nations declined their support and one of the astronauts, a 16-year-old girl, became pregnant and had to quit. This is how the heroic initiative turned into a curious episode in African history, surrounded by wars, violence, droughts and hunger.
Due to her background and extensive experience as a photojournalist, De Middel became increasingly attracted to the eccentric lines of story telling, avoiding conventional subject matter told in conventional ways. In her art, De Middel respects the basis of the truth but breaks the rules of veracity in order to push the audience into analyzing the patterns of the stories we consume as real.
De Middel states: “ ‘The Afronauts’ is based on the documentation of an impossible dream that only lives in the pictures. I start from a real fact that took place 50 years ago and rebuild the documents adapting them to my personal imagery.”
Cristina De Middel (Spain, 1975) is a photographer who has been working for different newspapers in Spain and with NGO's such as Doctors Without Borders or the Spanish Red Cross for more than 8 years.