A statue celebrating John Chilembwe, an historic figure in Malawi's resistance to colonialism has won the public vote to be placed in Trafalgar Square.
[AUPRwire, Tue Jul 06 2021] Announced today, on the eve of Malawi's 6th July Independence Day celebrations, the work Antelope by Malawian Artist Professor Samson Kambalu will take its place on the Fourth plinth in 2022. Malawi became independent in 1964.
Oxford-based Professor Kambalu's impactful bronze statue Antelope represents the pan-Africanist John Chilembwe (1871-1915), a hero of the Independence movement of what was then Nyasaland, now Malawi.
John Chilembwe is depicted wearing a hat: a potent symbol, given, during colonial rule, Malawians were expected to remove their headwear when passing, or in the presence of, a European; as well as stopping and standing to one side. This courtesy was seldom acknowledged or returned by a European, hence the justified outrage. The statue restages a 1914 photograph of John Chilembwe standing beside the Baptist Preacher European missionary John Chorley, the latter shown on a smaller scale.
Trafalgar Square (like many parts of Scotland) has numerous statues and memorials celebrating British colonial power. The Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP) strongly supports Antelope as an occupant of the fourth plinth, as a powerful statement of anti-colonial resistance. Prof Kambalu has had his own 'Scotland-Malawi partnership' for over 20 years now, having met his wife Susan Kambalu (a Scot) in Malawi while she was working at Kachere Books with (SMP member) Scottish Churches World Exchange. Of the six pieces shortlisted, there has been much support from Scotland for Prof Kambalu's statue of John Chilembwe.
SMP Chief Executive David Hope-Jones said:
It is a powerful, practical and constructive expression of all we have been talking about around Black Lives Matter, for an inspiring Malawian artist to be commissioned to make an inspiring statue of an inspiring Malawian freedom fighter which will sit alongside, and size up to, the many expressions of imperial power in the heart of London.
We understand the desire held by many to tear down statues which are no longer in keeping with our values today but we think it is perhaps most important that we build new statues, literal or figurative, to ensure the roles played by key black figures is not forgotten.
The SMP is committed to raising awareness of Malawi's history, most especially its fight against colonial power. Members of the SMP have included leading historians such as Prof John McCracken, Dr John Lwanda, Dr Jack Thompson and Prof Ken Ross, who have worked to help amplify Malawi's powerful voices from this time. The Kambalus have spoken of the inspiration they have drawn from this work.
Mexican artist Teresa Margolles' piece 850 Improntas which depicts casts of the faces of 850 trans people was also selected as a winner and will be displayed in Trafalgar Square in 2024.
Notes for Editors
The Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP) is the national civil society network coordinating, representing and supporting the many people-to-people links between our two nations. Further info on the SMP can be found on our website and in the following briefing document
For Media Enquiries please contact: SMP Media & Communications Officer: Jade Stein (she/her/hers):
Tel. 07985 287 090 firstname.lastname@example.org
Samson Kambalu is an artist and writer working in a variety of media, including site-specific installation, video, performance and literature. He is an Associate Professor of Fine Art and MFA Course Tutor at the Ruskin School of Art and a fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford.