Yemi A.D. on being Czechia’s and Nigeria’s first space tourist
Czech artist Yemi Akinyemi Dele (professionally known as Yemi A.D.) is one of eight people selected to join Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on a trip around the Moon on board Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket next year. The dancer and choreographer with Nigerian roots, who has worked with Kanye West, was handpicked from more than a million candidates. I caught up with him shortly after the news was announced to discuss what it feels like to be Czechia’s first space tourist, and started by asking him how he got involved in the project:
“I found about it from a friend of mine, who showed me an article in which Yusaku Maezawa announced his intention to bring some artists to the Moon.
“This was about three years ago and I was really intrigued, because it has always been my childhood dream but I never thought it could actually come true.
“But then I got a scholarship in the US and started to attend a fellowship programme at the Aspen institute, where each of my 20 classmates were supposed to create a venture that will advance society in some way.
“I told my classmates I wanted to fly to the Moon and use the attention and promotion and experience to create art that would then help to advance society in some way and they were all really supportive.
“It was only with their support and encouragement that I thought pursuing my childhood dream wasn’t so unrealistic and I decided to apply.”
So can you take us through the selection procedure? What did it look like?
“When I first found out about the project, it wasn’t open to the public. So I spent about half a year thinking about how I could let them know that I wanted to take part.
“When they finally announced the open call, I submitted a questionnaire and went from one round to another. I also had to submit my artwork and attend all sorts of interviews.
“So it really was a long process. In the meantime, I created two different projects, so I knew that even if I didn’t get through, I would still appreciate the whole experience.
“MZ’s (Yusaku Maezawa’s) mission really is one of my dreams come true. He is asking artists to have an impact and it is something I have always wanted to do. I was always exploring different ways in which my art and creativity could improve other people’s lives.”
Did you have to meet any special requirements? Did you have to go through any medical checks to prove that you are fit to travel to space?
“Yes. It was definitely the biggest and the longest series of medical check-ups I have ever gone through. The good think is that I know I am perfectly healthy and that I can really fly to space.”
Did you meet Mr Maezawa in person? What was he like?
“Yes, I met him during the process and I was really positively surprised. I have worked with different celebrities or people with substantial wealth and they don’t have such a lightness of being about them.
“And that’s exactly who he is. He is very joyful and he is a dreamer. He also loves to have fun, to create new friendships and also to learn. I could see he was eager to find out more about each of us and about our art and our creative process.”
What do you think persuaded Mr. Maezawa to choose you out of more than a million people?
“This is a really difficult question. I think it should be him answering it, but I hope it was my art. I am really enthusiastic to explore different media.
“It is not just the choreography and dance and movements but all different kinds of artwork, from theatre to digital art. So I hope they fell in love with the choreographies and the video that I submitted.
“But I also believe that my life’s journey and the fact that I have been working and educating young people also matters. I have done this work continuously for the past twenty years or so.
“I work with kids with handicaps, I work with young people, I started different projects in Nigeria, scholarships for young dancers in India, and we were helping to fundraise money for kids with impaired hearing.
“I also have a brother with Down Syndrome, which has brought me close to kids with different types of needs. I enjoy it as much as I enjoy creating. So I think this also was an element.”
“I was always very proud to have this mixture of Slavic origin as well as Nigerian origin. And I try to project that in my art.”
In the short video in which you presented yourself you highlighted your Czech-Nigerian background as well as the fact that you come from the north-Bohemian town of Liberec. What role does your background play in your work? How important is it for your work?
“It is very important, because I am a so-called third culture kid. I don’t really have the culture of my mum and I also don’t have the culture of my dad. When I go to Nigeria, nobody believes that I am a Nigerian. When I am in Czechia, nobody believes that I am Czech.
“For kids like me, there is always a moment of an identity crisis, when we really need to stand for ourselves, because our identity wasn’t assigned to us right from the start.
“We have to search for it and have to be OK with people questioning it and doubting it and this create a certain resilience. It has an impact not only on who you are but on what you create.
“I was always very proud to have this mixture of Slavic origin as well as Nigerian origin. And I try to project that in my art. I don’t want to recycle traditional moves or other artists; I really think about what it means.”
“If there is one reason why this mission makes sense for me it is to make young people understand that it doesn’t really matter where you are born or how much money you have or what your gender or sexual orientation is.”
The mission to the Moon is scheduled to take place sometime next year. What will you do in the meantime? What will the preparations be like?
“I am really excited to work on my body and on my skills. I am also a fan of all kinds of sci-fi, so I can’t wait to do the professional training and understand every part of the ship and so on.
“But I also look forward to start collaborating with other crew members. I think the best thing about this mission, besides the fact we will fly to the Moon, is who we are flying with. And besides MZ, we have a great group of people, from musicians to actors, singers, photographers, filmmakers.
“I am really curious what it will be like, because it is such an unusual group of people. So I don’t know every detail of what is ahead of me, but I know it will be challenging and I also know it will make my life better.”
What does it feel like, being the first space tourist from Czechia?
"I am very proud and I feel it’s such a privilege to be representing a country that had man in Space over 40 years ago. It is also a great privilege to do it for Nigeria.
“If there is one reason why this mission makes sense for me it is to make young people understand that it doesn’t really matter where you are born or how much money you have or what your gender or sexual orientation is.
“The only thing that matters is whether you are creative and whether you are willing to put work in. If you do that, no matter where you are from you can wish for the best and you can get it.”
So how do you feel right now? Are you afraid or excited or is it a mix of different feelings?
“I would say it is a multi-layered and a multifaceted emotional storm. It still feels very surreal. But I am just really feeling blessed for having this chance and proud and grateful at the same time.
“Fear is definitely a part of it. I would lie if I say that I am not afraid. In my life I have always taken risks and I believe the reason why I got where I am now is because I was willing to take risks and they were risks worth taking.
“I believe that this mission has so much sense. I understand that there are some people who feel there is no point in doing this when there is so much struggle in the world.
“But I believe that space exploration is not really about looking up, but looking in. This is the very first time ever we will hear from artists what it was like to see the Earth from Space, what inspiration it ignited.
“So I am really looking forward to it and I hope that I will be ready and that it will bring the inspiration that we all hope for.”