Three artists create contemporary art to be launched into space
EUMETSAT, Arianespace and African Artists for Development got together to create the first African work of art to be launched into space
In a first, three African artists have produced a work of art that will be launched into space. Their original art work will be reproduced onto the nose cone of the Ariane 5 launch vehicle, which will transport the first of the next-generation Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) Earth observation satellites into space.
14 October 2022
03 May 2022
In a first, three African artists have produced a work of art that will be launched into space. Their original art work will be reproduced onto the nose cone of the Ariane 5 launch vehicle, which will transport the first of the next-generation Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) Earth observation satellites into space. The spacecraft, called MTG-Imager1 (or MTG-I1), will fly 36000km above Africa and send regular and frequent images of the continent to inform weather forecasters and scientists.
The artists Géraldine Tobé, Michel Ekeba and Jean David Nkot , who can be considered as African ambassadors in space, met with EUMETSAT to explain their collaborative work, how they were influenced by ancient African knowledge of cosmology, and how crucial it is for Africans to participate in creating a sustainable future.
Can you please describe the main elements of your artwork?
The artwork is not just a series of elements placed side by side: they are mixed in order to create a unified message about sustainability, but also about the importance of collaboration and harmony.
The central character is a woman depicted three times in different positions by Géraldine Tobe. Her work represents the rural part of the African population that is extensive, continues to suffer, and will experience increasing hardships because of climate change. As Africa has many challenges to overcome, sending satellite in space might not be seen as a priority. However, the information brought back by the MTG satellites will be crucial to support their development. There is a very important need for more outreach and education towards these rural populations.
Surrounding these three women, Jean-Daniel Nkot painted a dotted cartography representing Africa using six colours to depict the six climatic regions in the continent. Lastly, Michel Ekeba created astronauts made of electronic waste, a reference to the 1960s Zambian Space Programme, in order to bring attention to the vast amount of non-recyclable electronic waste that pervades the environment in his country, the Congo RDC.
Each of you has a very specific artistic universe. How did you work together to produce a unified work of art?
Our artistic universes are very different partly because we come from different cultures but also because of the tools and techniques we are using. Michel Ekeba is a photographer and sculptor, while Jean-David Nkot and Geraldine Tobe are painters. Géraldine uses smoke to create stunning images in greyscale, while Jean-David uses mostly bright colours. It was crucial for us to first confront our differing ideas in order to find a common concept in order to create a cohesive, meaningful piece of art.
We built on the very ancient astronomical knowledge stemming from African people. For example, several thousand years BC, the Dogon, an ancient West African people, developed a very complex cosmogony based on the distant stars Sirius A and B that were “discovered” by Western astronomers only in the XIX centuryMore generally, the tight interconnections between Earth and space are very present throughout many African cultures. In the 1970s, several projects aimed at giving Africans a more prominent role in the conquest of space were set up, but they did not succeed, which just adds to how meaningful it is for us to have the privilege of participating in this project.
What elements from the field of satellites and Earth observation inspired you?
To learn more about satellites and Earth observation, Michel Ekeba and Géraldine Tobe visited the Congo’s national meteorological satellite agency, METELSAT, in Kinshasa, while Jean-David went to the Center for Application and Climatological Forecasting of Central Africa (CAPC-AC) in Douala, Cameroon. It was very interesting to learn, first, about the existence of such centres because we did not know that they existed in Africa. Then we discovered how satellite data is decomposed, or even dislocated, and conveyed via waves that are then captured on Earth and interpreted to make sense to humans again. That was all very new to us.
The role of meteorological and climate agencies in Africa are not always well considered, and these institutions lacks funding to support their activity. There is a lot to do to inform people about the importance of weather forecasting and climate monitoring. We all think that it is very important to empower Africans with knowledge so they can lead the development of the continent by themselves. The information delivered by the Meteosat satellites, currently and in the future, is one piece of that puzzle. Despite being the continent that produces the least CO2, Africa is very susceptible to damage caused by climate change.
Moving forward, it is important to highlight the continuous evolution between traditional knowledge of the cosmos and modern technologies to measure and monitor it. We believe it is crucial for Africans to “own” our sustainable future in a collaborative, open, and fair way.