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Cape Town - As South Africa makes history by hosting cutting-edge astronomy projects such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a new exhibition at the Iziko South African Museum seeks to reflect the often profound bond between humans and the heavens above. In keeping with that theme, the exhibition, titled Hemelliggaam (Afrikaans for “heavenly body”) or The Attempt To Be Here Now, brings together both astronomers and artists in its attempt to serve as a visual exploration of the existential aspects of the human environment/astronomy relationship.

The exhibition features photographs and videos - taken and recorded by the creators of the project, Tommaso Fiscaletti and Nic Grobler - depicting not only astronomers and telescopes, but also Northern Cape communities close to the SA Large Telescope and the SKA. The exhibits set out to capture the relationship these communities have with the sky and the environment, but will also contribute to the development of a visual history of astronomy in South Africa. The artists worked in the collaboration with University of the Western Cape (UWC) scientists in the department of physics and astronomy.

UWC research scientist Mattia Vaccari said: “In South Africa, through the SKA and other projects, there has been a renewed interest in astronomy, its scientific marvels and implications.”
While many have heard about technological advances in astronomy, the artists aim to show that astronomy is also a human story. “Long before we built these gigantic telescopes that will look further into space than ever before, people have turned their heads towards the heavens and have been inspired by it. In many ways, the stars and planets and worlds out there have become part of the stories that South African people tell,” Vaccari said.

Hemelliggaam builds on the education and public outreach programme of sky viewings and high school lectures that the UWC Astrophysics Group runs, explained Lucia Marchetti, a postdoctoral fellow with the group. “With Hemelliggaam we aim to develop stronger links with our community both in Cape Town and in the Northern Cape, where optical and radio telescopes are being operated,” she said.

Elements of the exhibition will also travel to Sutherland and Carnarvon. A final exhibition incorporating material obtained during this travelling phase will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope in 2020.

The exhibition has been enabled by the generous financial support of the National Research Foundation as part of the South African History of Astronomy Roadmap, but also by the support of the Italian consulate, the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, and Enel X South Africa.

The exhibition will run at Iziko until April 22. It opens at 6pm for 6.30pm. The museum opens daily from 10am until 5pm.