Out of this world

Ghanaian artist Steloo channels Zambian ‘Afronaut’

It’s difficult to say whether Steloo’s new project, Oracle Afronaut, is performance art, an installation, an intriguing sculpture, or outreach to the local community in the Nima settlement in Accra, Ghana. It could be all of the above, as well as a trenchant comment on the billionaire space race the world is currently witnessing.

At its heart, though, the work is inspired by the true story of Zambian ‘Afronaut’ Edward Mukuka Nkoloso, a science teacher and director of Zambia’s National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy. In the 1960s, Nkoloso had a plan to beat the United States and Soviet Union in the race to the moon and Mars. Branded a crackpot for his plans to take 11 Zambian men, a 17-year-old girl, his dog, and a number of cats into space, Nkoloso never got to take his moonshot – but his failure to launch has teased the creative imagination ever since.

Known for pushing the boundaries of experiential art, Steloo constructed a seven-foot purpose-built interactive space rocket out of sheet metal, with the help of local craftsman. This Design Indaba Alumnus then prepared for the ‘launch’ amid a largely marginalised Muslim community in Nima. Sheet metal is associated with decay and dilapidation in the area, but the rocket inspired new possibilities, allowing people to view the material in a more creative light. The entire performance was live streamed from within the rocket.

“My work is focused on giving audiences an immersive experience through the manipulation of sounds and the insertion of the sounds into created sculptural objects,” Steloo told Design Indaba. “This experimental process offers new ways of building, engaging and interacting with sounds as well as objects.”

The sound inside the rocket is actually the recorded opinions of people who visit the rocket and talk about how they imagine space to be. Playfully, an antenna has been placed on top of the rocket, mimicking a transmitter to share the thoughts of those inside the rocket. Steloo says he is metaphorically linking space exploration with the mind, referring to the mind as space itself – a place of unlimited imagination.

The audio link from the field recording can be found here.

Steloo’s project has been generously supported by the British Council’s SSA Arts Digital Catalyst Fund, in collaboration with the Yinka Shonibare Foundation, FCA Ghana and others.

Credits: Steloo

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