• The Uhuru Catalogues
    Thandi Loewenson
    Lesley Lokko
    The Laboratory of the Future, 18th International Architecture Exhibition—La Biennale di Venezia, Venice
    May 20, 2023 to Nov 26, 2023
    Centre for Race, Gender and Class, Johannesburg
    Spring 2024
    Thandi Loewenson

Thandi Loewenson, "Title card for 'The Uhuru Catalogues,'" 2023. Digital film still. Courtesy the artist

The Uhuru Catalogues comprise a large-scale series of drawings etched into graphite blocks. The work takes its name from the Uhuru x-ray astronomy satellite, launched from the coast of Kenya in 1970, and the all sky survey “catalogues” that the data from the satellite enabled. The Uhuru Catalogues present an examination of the history of x-ray astronomy and subsequent methods of visioning the universe, placing these technologies and methods in the context of the Earthbound sites of production, exclusion and exploitation in which they were developed. The work examines the geopolitical context of the development and launch of the Uhuru satellite, between the Johnston Atoll in the Pacific and the San Marco launching platform in the Indian Ocean, unearthing how Uhuru became a vehicle for a series of Earthly technologies used to construct fictitious and exclusionary categories of space, being and belonging. Through an accompanying film, the work draws these themes into focus: from the construction of a rocket launching platform and Earth Station in Kenya, which served as a mechanism to entrench legal and economic agreements securing access to the air above newly liberated African land for colony and capital; to the use of Western methods and metrics of representation to define the rules under which worlds within and beyond our Earthly one can be conceived. The Uhuru Catalogues bring these technologies and their weaponization as systems of control into the frame, identifying methods of contestation and emancipation to them which arise from the African continent from the 1950s to date.

Thandi Loewenson is an architectural designer/researcher who mobilizes design, fiction, and performance to stoke embers of emancipatory political thought and fires of collective action, and to feel for the contours of other, possible worlds. Using fiction as a design tool and tactic, and operating in the overlapping realms of the weird, the tender, the earthly, and the airborne, Loewenson engages in projects which provoke questioning of the status-quo, whilst working with communities, policy makers, unions, artists, and architects towards acting on those provocations. Loewenson is a senior research tutor at the Royal College of Art, London; a contributor to the Regional Network on Equity in Health in East and Southern Africa; cocurator of Race, Space & Architecture; and a cofounder of architectural research collectives BREAK//LINE and Fiction, Feeling, Frame. In 2023, Loewenson is the inaugural Black Digital South Artist-in-Residence at the Centre for Race, Gender and Class at the University of Johannesburg.