Anti-colonial hero statue to occupy the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square from September | fourth plinth

A statue of a pastor killed in an anti-colonial uprising in present-day Malawi will be unveiled on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in September.

Antelope by Samson Kambalu is the 14th contemporary artwork commissioned for public display in London’s historic Central Square.

The sculpture recreates a 1914 photograph of John Chilembwe, a Baptist preacher and Pan-African, and John Chorley, a European missionary, taken at the opening of Chilembwe’s new church in Nyasaland, now Malawi.

Chilembwe wears a hat in defiance of a colonial rule that prohibits Africans from wearing hats for white people. The following year, he led a revolt against colonial rule. Chilembwe was killed and his church, which had taken years to build, was destroyed by colonial police.

In Kambalu’s sculpture, Chilembwe is nearly twice the size of Chorley, as a way of elevating his narrative and highlighting the distortions in conventional narratives of the British Empire.

Kambalu said, “Antelope on the fourth plinth would one day become a litmus test of how much I belong to British society as an African and cosmopolitan.” The commission had filled him with “excitement and joy,” he added.

He had proposed the statue for the fourth plinth before the Black Lives Matter movement got off the ground in the UK, he told the BBC last month.

“I thought I would just be the underdog, because I decided that as an African I would imagine something meaningful. But we have to start giving details to the black experience, we have to give details to the African experience, to the postcolonial experience .”

Justine Simons, deputy mayor of London for culture and creative industries, said Kambalu’s work “sheds light on a hidden story of the British Empire and will reveal how a simple hat became a symbol of the struggle for equality”.

Born in Malawi in 1975, Kambalu is an associate professor of fine arts at Magdalen College, Oxford.

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An updated paperback version of his memoir, The Jive Talker: Or, How to Get a British Passport, will be released next month. In it, Kambalu describes how a boy obsessed with fashion, football, Nietzsche and Michael Jackson won a free education at the prestigious Kamuzu academy and embarked on a journey to become an international artistic and academic success.

The fourth plinth currently houses Heather Phillipson’s The End, a sculpture of a giant whirl of whipped cream, with a cherry, a fly and a drone broadcasting a live feed. The program is funded by the Mayor of London with support from Arts Council England, and the committees are elected by a panel.

Earlier artworks included Marc Quinn’s sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant and Yinka Shonibare’s scaled-down replica of HMS Victory, in a glass bottle.

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