The Fourth Plinth commission in London’s Trafalgar Square was unveiled this morning by artist Samson Kambalu. Antelope has been well received since the maquette was released before the pandemic.
Antelope is the 14th commission since the programme of artworks began in 1998
The Fourth Plinth is renowned across the globe for bringing world-class contemporary art to the London public. Samson Kambalu’s bronze resin sculpture restages a photograph of Baptist preacher and pan-Africanist John Chilembwe and European missionary John Chorley, taken in 1914 in Nyasayland (now Malawi) at the opening of Chilembwe’s new Baptist church.
Chilembwe is wearing a hat, defying the colonial rule that forbade Africans from wearing hats in front of white people, and is almost twice the size of Chorley. By increasing his scale, the artist is elevating Chilembwe and his story, revealing the hidden narratives of underrepresented peoples in the history of the British Empire in Africa, and beyond.
John Chilembwe was a Baptist pastor and educator who led an uprising in 1915 against British colonial rule in Nyasaland triggered by the mistreatment of refugees from Mozambique and the conscription to fight German troops during WWI. He was killed and his church destroyed by the colonial police. Though his rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful, Malawi, which gained independence in 1964, celebrates John Chilembwe Day on January 15th and the uprising is viewed as the beginning of the Malawi independence struggle.
The artist, Samson Kambalu, was born in 1975 in Malawi, and now lives and works in Oxford where he is Associate Professor of Fine Art and a lifelong fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford University.
His sculpture, which was made in Deptford, was selected by the Fourth Plinth Commission Group, chaired by Ekow Eshun, following an exhibition at the National Gallery where nearly 17,500 people commented on the selection.
For over two decades, The Fourth Plinth has showcased the work of great artists who have not shied away from tackling the important issues of the day. Yinka Shonibare CBE considered the legacy of British colonialism in Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle. Katharina Fritsch commented on gender equality and the masculine posturing in the square with her work Hahn/Cock. Michael Rakowitz’s recreation of the Lamassu, a winged bull and protective deity that was destroyed in Nineveh (near modern day Mosul) in 2015 shone a light on the devastating impact of war on cultural heritage, and Heather Phillipson’s THE END presented a giant swirl of whipped cream, a cherry, a fly and a drone that transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square, suggesting both exuberance and unease and responding to Trafalgar Square as a site of celebration and protest.
Antelope will be on the Fourth Plinth until September 2024 and is a highlight of the inaugural Sculpture Week London, a new initiative that will celebrate public art throughout London in a collaboration between Frieze, Sculpture in the City and the Mayor of London’s Fourth Plinth Programme.
Samson Kambalu said: “I am thrilled to have been invited to create a work for London’s most iconic public space, and to see John Chilembwe’s story elevated. 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. Chilembwe selected himself for the Fourth Plinth, as though he waited for this moment. He died in an uprising but ends up victorious.”
Samson Kambalu. Antelope Top Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2022