In Icarus 13, Kiluanji Kia Henda (Luanda, Angola 1979) shows us the landscape of African post-colonialism through a series of photographs and a mock-up. A team of Angolan astrophysicist is preparing man’s first expedition to the sun. Photographs of ruins from the colonial era – the space monument that was the Russian Government’s gift to the city of Luanda – are displayed with images of Angolan workers building the structure. Failed heroism, that is Icarus 13. This story brings up a series of scientific and political issues that are important today, because they affect a future that is our present, a present in which we humans are anxiously living through the start of the 21st century and the crisis that has become obvious in politics, economy, science, art and the social and civic values developed by the Western world. All reconstructions of history become myth when they are explained. Kia Henda uses the poisoned gift that the Russians left in Luanda as a starting point to invent a story about the first expedition to the sun, led by the Angolan government. In it, the workers who set up the monument that was a gift from Moscow become the expert technicians who prepare the ship – which is a giant life-size model in the capital of Angola – for take off. A utopian dream in a country that is in the midst of an economic boom that seems as unstable and surreal as this imaginary expedition to the sun, a project that not even NASA has started to contemplate. The name itself Icarus 13, dooms the expedition to failure, given what happened to the Greek hero that is its namesake.
There is irony, subversion and political criticism in equal parts in this work, in which the artist talks about new African colonialism, and about failure without actually mentioning it. He goes back to the words of the first president of Mozambique, who proposed that the first trip to the sun should be carried out by Africans for the glory of the continent, going on to explain that it should obviously take place at night when the sun does not give off heat. Fiction surpasses reality when it comes to proclaiming bold theories, Henda seems to say as he perpetuates the cruel joke against his own continent and country. The work includes a text that recounts the preparations for the exhibition over two years, until the supposed final takeoff, and ends with the classic “to be continued…”