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Female Gaze Friday: Cristina de Middel’s “The Afronauts”

Representations of the male figure in art are far less common than works depicting women. A long history of straight men dominating the art world has led to many images of winsome women, but fewer of beautiful men (I’ve written on this subject before; if you’d like to read more about the lack of male figures in art check it out here).

Every Female Gaze Friday I will post a woman-created work of art depicting a man—one small act to reverse the male gaze! Not all images will be provocative, many will be nonsexual or even disturbing. Hopefully this will be a way of learning more about women artists (as well as looking at dudes)!

This week we’ll look at The Afronauts by Cristina de Middel:

Cristina de Middel, The Afronauts, photography

Cristina de Middel, The Afronauts, photography

Cristina de Middel, The Afronauts, photography

Cristina de Middel, The Afronauts, photography

Cristina de Middel, The Afronauts, photography

Cristina de Middel, The Afronauts, photography

Cristina de Middel, The Afronauts, photography

Cristina de Middel, The Afronauts, photography

Cristina de Middel, The Afronauts, photography

Cristina de Middel, The Afronauts, photography

These photographs by artist Cristina de Middel reflect Zambia’s 1964 ambitions to put the first African on the Moon. De Middel’s photographs celebrate a nation’s dreams, comparing Zambia’s goals to the hopes and dreams of other nations. The photographs themselves are very whimsical; interesting fiction crafted from photos of people in Spain wearing spacesuits of African fabric and streetlamp globe helmets, composited with archival images of African villages creates a feeling of a dreamy story.

De Middel’s work is presented with a real letter between Zambian ministers during the time period stating that “America and Russia may lose the race to the Moon, according to Edward Mukaka Nkoloso, Director of the Zambia National Academy of Space Research”. Problems were abound with the space program, however, as the astronauts “don’t concentrate on spaceflight… there’s too much lovemaking when they should be studying the Moon”. Additionally, one of their astronauts, a seventeen year old “chosen to be the first coloured woman on Mars, has also to feed her 10 cats, who will be her companions on the long spaceflight”.

Zambia’s participation in the space race is a subject most Americans know little about. De Middel’s series is not only beautiful but informative, and helps many people relate to Zambia’s seemingly impossible ambitions. De Middel is aware of the possibility of neo-colonialist themes in her work, and tries to avoid being exploitative or appropriative by being clear that this is a fictionalized account of the Zambian Space Program and portraying the subject in a dreamy, legendary fashion.

You can see more of de Middel’s work here or read an interview with the artist here. Check back on Fridays for more images of men by women. And feel free to suggest works of art or artists in the comments!

Take a look at our previous Female Gaze Friday: Nude Male Landscapes by Eunice Golden.

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