Samson Kambalu, Professor of Fine Art at Ruskin School of Art, has won a commission for a place on the ‘fourth plinth’ in Trafalgar Square with his powerful sculpture, Antelope, depicting the pan-Africanist Malawian preacher, John Chilembwe.
The Ruskin School of Art is the University of Oxford’s Fine Art department and one of the UK’s leading Art Schools.
In a ceremony in London, where the winners were announced, Malawian-born Professor Kambalu said, ’Antelope on the Fourth Plinth was ever going to be a litmus test for how much I belong to British society as an African and a cosmopolitan. This commission fills me with excitement and joy.’
Professor Kambalu, a fellow of Magdalen College, won the commission following a public vote organised by the Mayor of London’s office. More than 17,000 people voted for their favourite among six original artworks.
Antelope restages, as a sculpture, a photograph of the Baptist preacher and pan-Africanist (belief in a unified African nation) John Chilembwe and European missionary John Chorley.
The photograph was taken in 1914 at the opening of Chilembwe’s new church in Nyasaland, now Malawi. Chilembwe has his hat on, defying the colonial rule that forbade Africans from wearing hats in front of white people.
A year later, he led an uprising against colonial rule. Chilembwe was killed, and his church, which had taken years to build, was destroyed by the colonial police.
In the sculpture, Professor Kambalu depicts Rev. Chilembwe as larger than life, while Chorley is life-size.
By increasing his scale, the artist elevates Chilembwe and his story, revealing the hidden narratives of underrepresented peoples in the history of the British Empire in Africa and beyond.
It was to be nearly 50 years before Nyasaland became independent as Malawi in 1964. And Chilembwe is still very much remembered in Malawi with a national day and was formerly depicted on banknotes.
A maquette of Antelope is part of the New Liberia exhibition by Professor Kambalu at Modern Art Oxford, which runs until 05 September, or visit
modernartoxford.org.uk to explore the display online, including behind-the-scenes content.
Antelope by Samson Kambalu will occupy one of the highest-profile public art spaces in the world from 2022, followed by while emoji 850 Improntas’ (850 Imprints) by Teresa Margolles from 2024.
850 Improntas (850 Imprints) features casts of the faces of 850 trans people from London and around the world. The ‘life masks’ will be arranged around the plinth in the form of a Tzompantli, a skull rack from Mesoamerican civilisations (an area covering Central Mexico to northern Costa Rica).