In this lecture Magdalen College Fellow in Fine Art Professor Samson Kambalu lookS at how his approach to art relates to postcolonial cinema and the Nyau mask tradition of Malawi. The lecture includeS screening of his short films and charts the artist’s journey from his upbringing in Malawi to his Fourth Plinth commission, Antelope. The webinar was hosted by Dinah Rose QC, President of Magdalen, and followed with a Q&A.
Samson Kambalu describes his solo show Fracture Republic now open at Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm, Sweden.
During lockdown, Samson Kambalu has been creating flags that explore the iconography and visual patterns of flags from around the world.
These artworks play with ideas of national and individual sovereignty and links to emancipatory movements such as Pan-Africanism and Black Lives Matter.
Using mobile technology to create and share on social media, the artist remixes colours and designs of flags, improvising in the same way a DJ or producer remixes music.
This link between music and visual language is underpinned by Kambalu’s background in ethnomusicology: the study of music, and musical instruments, from the perspective of people who make it.
Samson Kambalu trained as a fine artist and ethnomusicologist at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College. He is a Fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford.
Samson Kambalu’s sculpture Antelope, depicts a 1914 photograph of Baptist preacher John Chilembwe and European missionary John Chorley.
It has been chosen alongside Teresa Margolles’s sculpture which features casts of the faces of 850 trans people.
They will go on display in 2022 and 2024 respectively.
Kambalu said the original picture his artwork was based on “looks ordinary” at a first glance.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
In his design, Chilembwe is larger than life while Chorley is life-size. The judges said by increasing his scale, the artist elevated Chilembwe and his story, revealing the hidden narratives of underrepresented people in the history of the British Empire in Africa and beyond.
He added: “When I proposed, this was before Black Lives Matter and George Floyd had been taken into the mainstream and I thought I was just going to be like the underdog, because I had made up my mind that I was going to propose something meaningful to me as an African.
“But we have to start putting detail to the black experience, we have to start putting detail to the African experience, to the post-colonial experience.” – BBC
Please join us on Tuesday 8 June from 6.30-7.30pm for a free online event with writer and scholar McKenzie Wark and artist Samson Kambalu.
McKenzie Wark will be joined by Samson Kambalu as she responds to Kambalu’s current exhibition at Modern Art Oxford New Liberia, and his use of détournement, a practice of playful appropriation developed by the French avant-garde group, the Situationist International.
Samson Kambalu is proposing “Antelope” a restaging of a photograph from 1914 showing Reverend John Chilembwe (1871-1915) and his friend, the British missionary John Chorley.
The work would shine light on the Baptist pastor, who believed in a unified African nation. The photograph was taken at the church Chilembwe constructed and opened in 1914. He has his hat on, defying the colonial rule that forbade Africans from wearing hats in front of white people. A year later he was killed while leading an uprising against colonial rule.
Chilembwe was first Pan-Africanist to die resisting colonialism in the early 20th century. He quietly inspired figures of black liberation such as Marcus Garvey and WEB Du Bois.
Now showing as part of Samson Kambalu’s solo show New Liberia at Modern Art Oxford, 22 May – 5 September 2021. Watch the full film here.
Twee-eiige Drieling and S Kambalu Productions Presents:
A Game of War: Kambalu v Sanguinetti Trial at Ostend
In 2014 the Italian Situationist Gianfranco Sanguinetti sold his archive to Yale University’s Beinecke Library in a move his critics saw as going against the Situationist spirit of the potlatch. In 2015, on fellowship at Yale, the Malawi born artist Samson Kambalu photographed the whole archive and at the invitation of Okwui Enwezor exhibited the archive at Venice Biennale with an aim to put it back in public domain. Sanguinetti sued Kambalu and the Biennale demanding closure of the installation, pulping of the Biennale catalogue and a fee of 20000 euros for each day of delay. Sanguinetti did not win the case at Venice and owes Kambalu legal fees. In August 2020 the case was heard again in a Belgian court at Ostend, according to continental law regarding parody and authors’ rights.
Dedicated to Okwui Enwezor
Samson Kambalu and Mu.ZEE represented by Didier Deneuter
Gianfranco Sanguinetti represented by Elisabeth Daem
Judge: George Martyn
Situationist scholar: Sven Lütticken
Registrar: Tobias Van Royen
Produced by Twee-eiige Drieling and Mu.ZEE Oostende
Directed by Tobias Van Royen, Samson Kambalu and Jens Van Lathem
Edited by Ychäi Gassenbauer
Sound edit by Michel Bystranowski
Cinematography and sound by Heleen Declercq, Jaan Stevens and Neal Willaert
Translation and transcript by Stan Antheunis
With thanks to Mieke Mels, Ilse Roosens, Phillip Van Den Bossche, Vincent Meessen, Julie Van Elslande, Emma Ridgway, Amy Budd, Mu.ZEE Oostende, Mats Van Herreweghe, Lara Staal, Jan Desmet, Leo Vuylsteke, Ivan, Robin Goossens, Margo Veeckman, Modern Art Oxford
Samson Kambalu / Twee-eiige Drieling 2021