Kambalu stand in front of the statue in London
A larger-than-life statue of Malawian freedom fighter John Chilembwe has been unveiled in London’s historic Trafalgar Square.
The artwork named Antelope and made by Malawian Samson Kambalu depicts John Chilembwe and John Chorley, a European missionary. Chilembwe’s statue stands at five metres towering over that of Chorley’s.
The artwork restages a famous photograph taken in 1914 of Chilembwe standing next to British missionary Chorley, outside his church in Mbombwe village in southern Malawi.
“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,” says the Mayor of London’s website.
Speaking to the BBC, Kambalu who is an associate professor of fine art at the University of Oxford in England, expressed hope that the statue will start a conversation in Britain that is still coming to reckoning with their colonial past.
“The sculpture brings to light the forgotten histories of the empire, and society is looking for that recognition.”
Chilembwe, a pan-Africanist who inspired other freedom fighters, was born in 1871 and grew up in Chiradzulu District.
Chilembwe later worked under Joseph Booth, a missionary, and the two eventually travelled to the US, where the Malawian studied theology in Virginia and witnessed the struggles of African Americans.
When he returned to Malawi as an ordained preacher, Chilembwe established a church as well as schools and farms in Chiradzulu.
However, during this time, white settlers were forcing Malawians off their land and Malawian soldiers were also being taken to Tanzania to fight against the German army in the World War One.
Chilembwe expressed discontent over these injustices and in January 1915 he led an uprising against white settlers. The rebellion was not successful and Chilembwe was shot dead a few days later while trying to cross into what is now Mozambique.
Malawi eventually became independent in 1964 and today, Chilembwe is on banknotes and there are is a highway named after him. Malawi also celebrates John Chilembwe Day on January 15 every year.
According to the BBC, the Fourth Plinth, where Chilembwe’s statue has been placed, is regarded as one of the world’s most famous public art commissions. Since 2003, the Fourth Plinth has been showcasing different pieces of artwork every two years.
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