A statue of freedom fighter John Chilembwe, christened Antelope, has been shortlisted for the honour of being erected in Trafalgar Square in London, United Kingdom (UK).
Done by Professor Samson Kambalu, a Malawian based in Oxford, UK, the statue is in the race to occupy the Fourth Plinth of the historical site earmarked to bring contemporary art and debate to millions.
Made up of two figures, the bronze statue reminds people, especially Malawians, of their colonial history.
“It is based on the last known photograph taken of John Chilembwe from 1914, months before his death by colonial police following a failed uprising in 1915.
“Chilembwe is the towering ghostly figure while his friend, the British missionary John Chorley is the life size figure. Both men wear hats in defiance of the colonial law that forbade Africans from wearing hats in front of white people,” said Kambalu in an interview.
On the inspiration behind the statue, he expressed belief that that is how Chilembwe would have wanted it to be.
“I think that’s how Chilembwe would have wanted it for this particular event, built around the hat. He distributed the photograph widely before going to his death,” said Kambalu.
The statue also shows Chilembwe carrying a book, while Chorley holds reading glasses, both behind them.
Said Kambalu: “The statue, like the photograph, is performative. The two figures tango for recognition on the plinth, due to their disproportionate sizes, like a film vignette or some esoteric dance.”
He said the name antelope is derived from the meaning of Chilembwe in English.
“Chilembwe always had international partners for his cause, from his early mentor Joseph Booth, to his various connections with the Black American churches and missionaries such as Rev. Landon N. Cheek and Emma B. DeLany. Plus, he was a cosmopolitan, a mzinda minister. And you know, the antelope has four legs and dances round and round,” said Kambalu.
For the statue to be at Trafalgar Square, a public vote currently underway will decide.
However, Kambalu did not express how he looks at his chances of making it considering that not many Malawians have access to the Internet.
“Well, fingers crossed,” he said.
According to the Mayor of London’s website, www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/arts-and-culture/current-culture-projects/fourth-plinth-trafalgar-square/your-fourth-plinth-vote, voting closes on June 16.
“Six of the world’s most exciting contemporary artists present their ideas for the next fourth Plinth commissions in 2022 and 2024.
“You can also see the models of each artist’s ideas at the National Gallery from May 24 until July 4. It is free to visit the Fourth Plinth Shortlist Exhibition,” reads the website.