Dreams and Nightmares of the African Astronauts hinges on a powerful video. In it, we see the response of people in one of the world’s poorest countries (Burkina Faso) to news of men on the moon. Reactions range from disbelief to “How do they eat on the moon?” to “Why are they sending men to the moon when we need food here?” And it’s that last question that’s been with me since long before this show.
As a technologist by trade I certainly love technology, and the space program is no doubt a technological showcase that inspires many (including folks in Burkina Faso). But when such exorbitant expense and effort is applied to that task while basic human needs remain unfulfilled for so many, it really starts to seem that we’ve gone wrong at a basic level.
To be fair, the space program is just an example. It’s not so much about the space as it is about an America that is so fabulously wealthy not being particularly troubled by people starving so long as we don’t have to see them. What this show does is bring that wealth and lack of wealth together in the same room and asks us to think about it. A spaceman on the moon and a spaceman on the African plain — so far apart.
Another piece that brings this issue out is Bodys Isek Kingelez’s New Manhattan City 3021 (part of the fabulous American Effect exhibit). It shows lower Manhattan a thousand years from now as imagined by a Congolian, having risen magnificently from the ashes of 9/11. While this is an inspiring vision for ground zero, it also begs the question: “Where will the developing world be in 3021?” From the multitude of spare-no-expense gleaming towers on display, it seems we may have continued to invest largely in symbols of our own wealth.