The African Art Space Project is planning to send work by an African artist into space in 2021 aboard an Ariane 5 satellite launcher. The project was initiated by African Artists for Development (AAD), a philanthropic organisation founded in 2009 by the French collectors Matthias and Gervanne Leridon. AAD initiatives include a contemporary African art exhibition that has traversed more than seven countries, financing the creation of three libraries in West Africa, and bringing dance and music performances to a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The space project is in partnership with the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (Eumetsat), Arianespace (the company which produces the Ariane 5), and the World Meteorological Organization. AAD, which is a member of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), presented the idea for the project to these bodies and the African Union in September 2018 at Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
The Ariane 5 launcher will be carrying a Eumetsat satellite into orbit that will observe the African continent and collect meteorological data about how Africa is being affected by global warming. The aim is to accompany this mission with a work by an African artist.
AAD appointed a selection committee to come up with a list of over 60 visual artists who have been invited to submit a proposal by mid-September 2019. The committee comprises the South African curator Melissa Goba, the Nigerian singer/songwriter Keziah Jones, the French/Rwandan writer Gaël Faye and the French/Ivorian Jean Philippe Aka, publisher of the African Art Market Report. To be eligible for selection, the artist must have been born in Africa and be below 40 years of age. Equal gender representation is also emphasised.
Among the shortlisted artists are the South African photographers Mikhael Subotzky and Athi-Patra Ruga, the Nigerian-born, New York-based artist Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze, Zimbabwean-born, London-based artist Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Omar Victor Diop (Senegal), Gareth Nyandoro (Zimbabwe), Ephrem Solomon (Ethiopia) and Josephine Ngminvielu Kuuire (Ghana).
The artists have been asked to write a “note of intention” with graphics or drawings. The proposals will be whittled down to a shortlist of three in October 2019, from which the winner will be selected in November by a jury including AAD, Eumetsat, Arianespace and the World Meteorological Organisation. The winner will spend a three-month residency to release the piece next year at Eumetsat in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt, Germany where the satellite is being constructed and prepared for launch. The piece will then be transferred over several months onto the nose of the Ariane 5.
The article is adapted from an initial publication on The Art Newspaper.
Jerry Chiemeke is an editor, writer and mental health advocate. His works have appeared in Bellanaija, True Nollywood Stories, Music In Africa and The Guardian, among others. Jerry is the winner of the 2017 Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Reviews. He is a Senior Editor at Space in Africa.