African art to be launched into space

The African Space Projects intends to send work by an African artist into space in 2021 on the nose of an Ariane 5 rocket.

African Artists for Development (AAD) – a philanthropic organisation founded by French art collectors, Matthias and Gervanne Leridon – initiated the project in partnership with the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (Eumetsat), the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and Arianespace, the makers of the rocket.

According to Matthias Leridon, “Africa is the continent that suffers the most from global warming but the one that produces the least CO2, so is the lowest contributor.” A Eumetsat satellite – carried into orbit by the Ariane 5 launcher – will observe the continent and gather meteorological data about how Africa is being affected by global warming.

African art will accompany the mission and the data collected will be shared with countries on the continent to help improve sustainable development and agricultural policy decision-making.

The AAD has appointed a selection committee tasked with inviting more than 60 visual artists to submit proposals by September 2019. This committee includes South African curator, Melissa Goba, Nigerian singer, Keziah Jones, French/Rwandan writer, Gaël Faye and the publisher of the African Art Market Report, Jean Phillippe.

The criteria for consideration stipulates the list must equally represent genders and that the artists must be born in Africa and be younger than 40-years-old. Matthias Leridon said, “They’re artists that make photography or painting, not sculpture because otherwise, it would be difficult to transfer the piece onto the rocket.”

Athi-Patra Ruga, Miss Azania - Exile is waiting, 2015. 190 x 150cm. Courtesy of the artist and WHATIFTHEWORLD/Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg.Athi-Patra Ruga, Miss Azania – Exile is waiting, 2015. 190 x 150cm. Courtesy of the artist & WHATIFTHEWORLD/Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg.

South African photographers, Mikhael Subotzky and Athi-Patra Ruga, are among the shortlisted artists – along with Ruby Onyinyechi (Nigeria), Kudzanai-Violet Hwami (Zimbabwe), Omar Victor Diop (Senegal), Gareth Nyandoro (Zimbabwe), Ephrem Solomon (Ethiopia) and Josephine Ngminvielu Kuuire (Ghana).

For their proposals – which will be trimmed to a shortlist of three in October 2019 – the artists have been asked to submit a ‘note of intent’ with graphics or drawings. The winner will be selected in November 2019 by a jury comprised of the AAD, Eumetsat, Arianespace and the WMO.

Next spring, Eumetsat will host the winner for a three-month residency in Darmstadt, Germany – where the satellite is being constructed and prepared for launch. Upon completion, the piece will be transferred over several months onto the nose of the Ariane 5, ” the transfer period is a sensitive, technological stage because the film must not disturb the rocket’s course in space,” said Leridon.

Kudzabai Violet Hwami, Lotus, 2018.Kudzabai-Violet Hwami, Lotus, 2018. Courtesy of the artist & Tyburn Gallery.

The work will exist in two forms – its spatial form will be applied to the nose of the rocket, while its physical form will be on the launcher’s headdress model that will be exhibited throughout the continent.

It will be presented next year at the WMO’s headquarters in Geneva and Eumetsat’s annual African congress in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.

The names of all artists who submitted a “serious note of intention” will feature on the nose of the Ariane 5 when the African Art Space Project is launched in the last quarter of 2021. All the artists who donated one of their works to help fund the project will also have their names included.

According to Matthias Leridon, “the main message is that we need to invest in Africa because there’s no future for Europe without the African continent and no future for the African continent without Europe.”

Storm Simpson