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A Tale of Defiance from British Rule

On Sept. 14, a statue of Malawi’s anticolonial hero, John Chilembwe, will occupy one of the world’s most famous public art commissions in London’s historic Trafalgar Square. The statue, named ‘Antelope’ will be on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, which showcases a different piece of artwork every two years. This piece will be the fourteenth contemporary artwork to be commissioned for display in the famed location and will run until September 2024. The sculpture, created by Malawian artist, Samson Kambalu, restages a photograph of Chilembwe and John Chorley, a European missionary taken at the opening of Chilembwe’s new church in 1914. It is a historic photo and believed to be one of the last photos taken of Chilembwe before he was killed in an uprising against the British—known as the ‘Chilembwe uprising’ in 1915. The photograph is also one of defiance with Chilembwe wearing a hat alongside Chorley. At that time, colonial rule forbade Africans from wearing hats in front of white people. While Chorley’s sculpture remains life-sized, Kambalu said he made Chilembwe almost twice the size as a way to elevate his story and bring to the forefront the hidden narratives of the British empire.