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Sculpture of anticolonial hero is unveiled as the newest artwork on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth

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A larger-than-life sculpture of an anticolonial hero is the latest work of art unveiled on Trafalgar Square’s famous fourth plinth.

The piece, Antelope, by Samson Kambalu, depicts Baptist preacher John Chilembwe and European missionary John Chorley.

It restages a photograph from 1914 at the opening of Chilembwe’s new church in Nyasaland – now Malawi – in which the preacher 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, but Chilembwe was killed and his church, which had taken years to build, was destroyed by the colonial police.

On the plinth, Chilembwe is 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.

Kambalu, an associate professor of fine art at the University of Oxford, said: ‘Many people may not know who John Chilembwe is. And that is the whole point.’

It comes amid calls for a statue of the Queen to become a permanent fixture atop the fourth plinth.

A sculpture entitled ‘Antelope’ by Malawi-born artist Samson Kambalu, is pictured after being unveiled on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square

On the plinth, Chilembwe is 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

On the plinth, Chilembwe is 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 replaces the piece that has sat on the landmark for the last two years, The End by Heather Phillipson

It replaces the piece that has sat on the landmark for the last two years, The End by Heather Phillipson

A larger-than-life sculpture of an anticolonial hero is the latest work of art unveiled on Trafalgar Square's famous fourth plinth

A larger-than-life sculpture of an anticolonial hero is the latest work of art unveiled on Trafalgar Square’s famous fourth plinth

It restages a photograph from 1914 at the opening of Chilembwe's new church in Nyasaland, now Malawi, in which the preacher has his hat on, defying the colonial rule that forbade Africans from wearing hats in front of white people

It restages a photograph from 1914 at the opening of Chilembwe’s new church in Nyasaland, now Malawi, in which the preacher has his hat on, defying the colonial rule that forbade Africans from wearing hats in front of white people

A sculpture of African baptist preacher John Chilembwe, who led an uprising against colonial rule, was on Wednesday unveiled on the fourth plinth in London's landmark Trafalgar Square, where it will stay for the next two years

A sculpture of African baptist preacher John Chilembwe, who led an uprising against colonial rule, was on Wednesday unveiled on the fourth plinth in London’s landmark Trafalgar Square, where it will stay for the next two years 

The piece restages a photograph from 1914 at the opening of Chilembwe's new church in Nyasaland, now Malawi, in which the preacher has his hat on, defying the colonial rule that forbade Africans from wearing hats in front of white people

The piece restages a photograph from 1914 at the opening of Chilembwe’s new church in Nyasaland, now Malawi, in which the preacher has his hat on, defying the colonial rule that forbade Africans from wearing hats in front of white people

Samson Kambalu: Oxford academic and author best known for creating a football plastered in pages of the Bible 

Samson Kambalu, 47, is a Malawi-born artist who is also a Fellow of Magdelen College at Oxford University and an associate professor at the Ruskin School of Art.

He graduated from the University of Malawi in 1999 before completing his MA in fine art at Nottingham Trent University and then going on to write a PhD at the Chelsea College of Art and Design. 

His work focuses on the Chewa Nyau culture of his native Malawi and one of his most well known artworks is Holy Ball, a football plastered in pages of the Bible.

It is autobiographical and he uses art as an arena for critical thought. He has shown his work around the world, including Dakar Biennale in 2014 and 2016, Tokyo International Art Festival in 2009 and the Liverpool Biennial in 2004 and 2016.

His artwork for the fourth plinth depicts a 1914 photograph of anticolonialist Baptist preacher John Chilembwe and European missionary John Chorley.

‘On the plinth, Chilembwe is larger than life while Chorley is lifesize; by increasing his scale, the artist elevates Chilembwe and his story, revealing the hidden narratives of under-represented peoples in the history of the British Empire in Africa and beyond,’ City Hall said. 

His first book, an autobiographical narrative entitled The Jive Talker or How to Get A British Passport, was published by Random House in 2008 and was winner of the National Book Tokens ‘Global Reads’ Prize in 2010.  

His second novel, Uccello’s Vineyard, is a detourned narrative about photography and art set in the Middle Ages that was published in 2012.

Kambalu was chosen from a shortlist of six international artists from America, Germany, Ghana, Mexico and the UK with almost 17,500 votes cast by members of the public. 

The original picture his artwork is based on ‘looks ordinary’ at a first glance, Kambalu said last year after being chosen to display his piece on the central London platform.

He added: ‘But when you research the photograph, you find that actually there’s subversion there, because at that time in 1914 it was forbidden for Africans to wear hats before white people.

‘For me, the Fourth Plinth and my proposals were always going to be a litmus test for how much I belong to British society as an African and as a cosmopolitan, and so this fills me with joy and excitement.

‘It’s a big commission, probably the biggest I will ever do, unless we have another commission on Mars.’ 

Kambalu, 47, is a Malawi-born artist who is also a Fellow of Magdelen College at Oxford University and an associate professor at the Ruskin School of Art.

He graduated from the University of Malawi in 1999 before completing his MA in fine art at Nottingham Trent University and then going on to write a PhD at the Chelsea College of Art and Design. 

His work focuses on the Chewa Nyau culture of his native Malawi and one of his most well known artworks is Holy Ball, a football plastered in pages of the Bible.

It is autobiographical and he uses art as an arena for critical thought. He has shown his work around the world, including Dakar Biennale in 2014 and 2016, Tokyo International Art Festival in 2009 and the Liverpool Biennial in 2004 and 2016.

His first book, an autobiographical narrative entitled The Jive Talker or How to Get A British Passport, was published by Random House in 2008 and was winner of the National Book Tokens ‘Global Reads’ Prize in 2010.  

His second novel, Uccello’s Vineyard, is a detourned narrative about photography and art set in the Middle Ages that was published in 2012.

The fourth plinth will also be home to the casts of 850 transgender sex workers, which the artist expects will disintegrate in the rain.

Teresa Margolles’ artwork ‘850 Improntas’ will appear alongside Kambalu’s sculpture after they saw off competition from four other artists.

Paloma Varga Weisz, Ibrahim Mahama, Goshka Macuga and Nicole Eisenman had also been shortlisted for Fourth Plinth commissions.

But Margolles, who initially trained as a forensic pathologist, believes her sculpture will disintegrate in the rain. She expects the work to deteriorate and fade away, leaving a ‘kind of anti-monument’, according to the Guardian.  

The latest artwork to be displayed on the fourth plinth; "Antelope" by Samson Kambalu, is seen at Trafalgar Square

The latest artwork to be displayed on the fourth plinth; ‘Antelope’ by Samson Kambalu, is seen at Trafalgar Square

The work Antelope by Samson Kambalu is unveiled as the latest sculpture on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square

The work Antelope by Samson Kambalu is unveiled as the latest sculpture on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square

The work Antelope by Samson Kambalu is unveiled as the latest sculpture on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square

The work Antelope by Samson Kambalu is unveiled as the latest sculpture on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square

e latest artwork to be displayed on the fourth plinth; "Antelope" by Samson Kambalu, is seen at Trafalgar Square

e latest artwork to be displayed on the fourth plinth; ‘Antelope’ by Samson Kambalu, is seen at Trafalgar Square

The cover is removed, revealing the latest artwork to be displayed on the fourth plinth; "Antelope" by Samson Kambalu, at Trafalgar Square

The cover is removed, revealing the latest artwork to be displayed on the fourth plinth; ‘Antelope’ by Samson Kambalu, at Trafalgar Square

Artist Samson Kambalu unveils his artwork entitled, Antelope on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London this morning

Artist Samson Kambalu unveils his artwork entitled, Antelope on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London this morning

Shrouded in black and awaiting its unveiling - Antelope by Samson Kambalu on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

Shrouded in black and awaiting its unveiling – Antelope by Samson Kambalu on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

Teresa Margolles: The Mexican forensic pathologist-turned artist who encased a fetus in cement and smuggled blood from murder scenes to use in sculptures 

Teresa Margolles, 58, is a Mexican conceptual artist, photographer, videographer, and performance artist who originally trained as a forensic pathologist.

Her work focuses on death and the causes and consequences of it and she spends time at various morgues across Mexico making observations.

The art she creates is usually in the form of ‘sensory experiences’ in actual morgues.  

She believes morgues reflect society, particularly Mexican urban experience, where drug-related crime, poverty, political upheaval, and military action result in violence and death.

Her work is often rather morbid and she was once given a stillborn fetus by a mother which she encased in cement as an artwork. 

And in 2009 she invited the relatives of victims who had been killed in gang violence in Juarez to mop the floor of the palazzo at the Venice International Art Exhibition with water that she had poured blood from murder sites into. 

She also created her own version of a Mexican flag created from fabric she had doused in the same blood. 

Margolles first started her art career while working with dead bodies as a forensic pathologist in a morgue in Mexico City in the 1990s and started an artists’ collective titled SEMEFO, which is an anagram for the Mexican coroner’s office.

She took pictures of the autopsy process and smuggled blood and grease from autopsy trays to use in sculptures.   

In 2012 she won the Artes Mundi prize by displaying bloody floor tiles she took from the building where a friend was murdered. Also on display was water used to clean bodies in a morgue, dripping and sizzling on hotplates.

That same year she was also given the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands.

Her work is usually much more morbid – at the beginning of her career she was given a stillborn fetus by a mother which she encased in cement and was known for smuggling blood and grease from autopsies to use in her sculptures.

Margolles’ work – which depicts the faces of some 850 transgender sex workers – was championed by trans activists who launched a fevered social media campaign urging followers to vote for the sculpture.  

One wrote: ‘Can you imagine the outrage from the usual snowflakes if Teresa Margolles’ artwork wins? That’s motivation enough to vote for it!’ 

But the works have been met a backlash from critics, opining that the choices represent ‘Sadiq Khan’s woke and wacky London’.

One Twitter user simply wrote: ‘What a load of rubbish’. While another added: ‘Woke fest.’ 

The fourth plinth is home to a rolling commission of public artworks, and for the last two years has showcased a giant dollop of whipped cream topped with a cherry, a fly and a drone.

Designed by Heather Phillipson, the sculpture is titled The End and is intended ‘to highlight issues of surveillance and public space and the status of the square itself’.

The drone perched on the cherry transmits live video of crowds in the square, which people will be able to view on their phones via a website.

Calls for a statue of the Queen on the plinth come as MPs and Buckingham Palace are set to discuss how to memorialise the late monarch’s historic 70-year reign. 

There is currently just one full-size statue of Her Majesty in the whole of the UK, which was erected in Windsor Great Park in 2002 to mark the Golden Jubilee. 

But any plans for a new tribute will not be revealed until after the official mourning period, with no such discussions taking place ahead of her state funeral on Monday.

‘This is something that we do want to consider very carefully in the fullness of time,’ a government source told the Times.

Other options being considered include renaming streets, parks, racecourses and even London’s Heathrow – the airport where she returned to Britain from Kenya as Queen Elizabeth II following the death of her father George VI in 1952. 

But the most likely memorial will be at Trafalgar Square, where the fourth plinth has been deliberately kept vacant for the past 20 years. 

Since 1998, the plinth has seen a succession of often bizarre and quirky art installations – including an enormous ice cream with a fly on it and a huge thumbs up made out of bronze. 

But it will likely feature a more permanent figure in the near future, as Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, said in 2013: ‘The understanding is that the fourth plinth is being reserved for Queen Elizabeth II.’

The plinth is a large block made out of slabs of stone and was originally intended to hold an equestrian statue of William IV, who died in 1837, but it remained bare due to insufficient funds. 

Its fate was debated for more than 150 years before it began commissioning art pieces in 1998, but now many see it as the ideal spot for a statue of the Queen on horseback – similar to the one erected in Windsor 20 years ago. 

From Nelson’s ship to a really big thumbs up: What were the past fourth plinth commissions?  

The idea for the fourth plinth commissions came from Prue Leith in 1994 when she was the chair of the Royal Society of Arts. 

She wrote a letter to the Evening Standard suggesting that something should be created to put on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square. 

Five years later the plinth’s first artwork was erected. 

1999: Ecce Homo by Mark Wallinger 

The Latin title of this sculpture means Behold the Man, in reference to the words of Pontius Pilate at Jesus’s trial, according to the bible. The sculpture shows a man standing with his arms behind his back wearing just a loincloth. 

2000: Regardless of History by Bill Woodrow. 

He intended to challenge and question man’s inability to learn lessons from the past with his sculpture depicting a head crushed between a book and the roots of a tree.

2001: Untitled by Rachel Whiteread 

While discussing her inspiration for the artwork – a cast of the plinth in transparent resin placed upside-down on top of the original, Ms Whiteread said: ‘After spending time in Trafalgar Square observing the people, traffic, pigeons, architecture, sky and fountains, I became acutely aware of the general chaos of Central London life. I decided that the most appropriate sculpture would be a pause, a quiet moment for the space.’

2005: Alison Lapper Pregnant by Marc Quinn 

A 12ft, 13-tonne Carrara marble torso-bust of Alison Lapper, an artist who was born with no arms and shortened legs due to a condition called phocomelia. It was created to explore representations of beauty and the human form in public space, and was remade on an even more monumental scale for the closing ceremony of the London Paralympics in 2012.

2007: Model for a Hotel by Thomas Schutte 

 

A 5-metre by 4.5-metre by 5-metre architectural model of a 21-storey building made from coloured glass designed to ‘feel like a sculpture of brilliance and light’.

2009: One & Other by Antony Gormley 

Over the span of 100 consecutive days, 2,400 selected members of the public were allowed to spend one hour on the plinth doing whatever they liked. 

For safety the plinth was surrounded by a net and a team of six stewards. Gormley said: ‘It’s about people coming together to do something extraordinary and unpredictable.’

2010: Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare 

This work is a depiction of Nelson’s ship, HMS Victory, with sails made of printed fabric in a colourful West African pattern inside a large glass bottle stopped with a cork. The bottle was 4.7 metres long and 2.8 metres in wide. The artwork was the first commission by a black British artist

2012: Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset 

A 13ft bronze sculpture of a boy on a rocking horse. In contrast with the square’s other statues celebrating kings and military leaders, this commission was designed to show the ‘heroism of growing up’. It was unveiled by actress Joanna Lumley who called it a ‘completely unthreatening and adorable creature’. 

2013: Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch  

A 15ft blue sculpture of a cockerel. The artist has described the cockerel as symbolising ‘regeneration, awakening and strength’.

2015: Gift Horse by Hans Haacke

The sculpture shows a skeletal horse with no rider. Haacke said he created the artwork as a tribute to Scottish economist Adam Smith and English painter George Stubbs – the horse is based on an engraving by Stubbs published in 1766. 

2016: Really Good by David Shrigley 

A 23ft bronze sculpture of a human hand in a thumbs up gesture with the thumb greatly elongated.  

2018: The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist by Michael Rakowitz 

The sculpture was a recreation of a similar one that stood at the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700 B.C. and depicts a winged bull and deity made out of empty Iraqi date syrup cans. The original was destroy by ISIS in 2015.

2020: The End by Heather Phillipson

The sculpture showed a dollop of whipped cream with an assortment of toppings including a cherry, a fly and a drone – which filmed passersby and displayed them on an attached screen.     

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