London honours African who fought British rule

A new statue has been unveiled in central London’s historic Trafalgar Square.

But this time, it is not a monument to one of the UK’s war heroes or kings. Instead it will be a larger-than-life statue of Malawian Baptist preacher and pan-Africanist, John Chilembwe, who fought against British colonial rule.

The sculpture, named Antelope, will be the square’s newest Fourth Plinth – which 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. While it was originally intended to display a statue of King William IV, it remained empty due to insufficient funds, and now exhibits temporary arts selected through public consultation and the commissioning group.

Chilembwe‘s five-metre statue will mark the first of an African in Trafalgar Square.

Cast in bronze, Antelope restages a famous photograph taken in 1914 of Chilembwe standing next to British missionary, John Chorley, outside his church in Mbombwe village in southern Malawi.

In the picture, Chilembwe is wearing a wide-brimmed hat, despite an unwritten rule that Africans should not wear hats in front of white people.

While the two stand together in the photo, when it comes to the statue the sculptor has added a twist that means that the image of the Malawian catches people’s eye.

Malawian-born artist, Samson Kambalu, designed the piece to make Chilembwe much larger than Chorley. His statue stands at five metres towering over that of Chorley’s.

“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.

Although the monument takes centre stage in London, Chilembwe remains an unknown figure to many.

“Many people may not know who John Chilembwe is. And that is the whole point,” says Kambalu, an associate professor of fine art at the University of Oxford in England.

Chilembwe is widely acknowledged as one of the first Africans to fight against colonial injustices in the 20th Century, staging an uprising against the British in Malawi (formerly Nyasaland) in 1915.-BBC

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