Fourth Plinth artist says Trafalgar Square sculpture is societal ‘litmus test’

·3-min read

Artist Samson Kambalu has said his plans for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square are a “litmus test” for how much he belongs to British society.

The Malawi-born artist’s sculpture Antelope, which depicts a 1914 photograph of Baptist preacher John Chilembwe and European missionary John Chorley, will go on display at the central London location next year.

The original picture his artwork is based on “looks ordinary” at a first glance, Kambalu told the PA news agency.

Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth artwork
Samson Kambala with Antelope (Victoria Jones/PA)

“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.

The picture shows the two men opening a church.

Kambalu 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.

“It’s a big commission, probably the biggest I will ever do, unless we have another commission on Mars.”

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.

Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth artwork
Antelope (James O Jenkins/PA)

“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.”

On Monday it was also announced that Teresa Margolles’ artwork 850 Improntas will go on display on the Fourth Plinth in 2024.

It casts the faces of 850 transgender people from London and around the world.

“She works closely with this marginalised community that sometimes is unable to access social care,” a statement from City Hall said.

“The ‘life masks’ will be arranged round the plinth in the form of a Tzompantli, a skull rack from Mesoamerican civilisations (an area covering Central Mexico to northern Costa Rica).”

Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth artwork
Teresa Margolles’ 850 Improntas (Victoria Jones/PA)

The artworks were selected by the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group after nearly 17,500 members of the public voted for their favourite designs.

Artists Paloma Varga Weisz, Ibrahim Mahama, Goshka Macuga and Nicole Eisenman had also been shortlisted for Fourth Plinth commissions.

Ekow Eshun, chairman of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, said: “This year was an incredibly strong shortlist from six incredibly exciting contemporary artists.

“I would like to congratulate Samson Kambalu and Teresa Margolles on winning the commissions, and to thank the public for all of their comments; we received more votes than ever before.

“I am thrilled at the outcome and very much looking forward to seeing the new works on the plinth.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “Our international shortlist showed again that the Fourth Plinth is one of the most important art commissions in the world, and I’d like to congratulate Samson Kambalu and Teresa Margolles as the next artists to have their work displayed.

“They will be shining a spotlight on important issues that our society continues to face, and I know they will spark debate and interest at home and abroad.”

New Trafalgar Square artwork
The End by Heather Phillipson (David Parry/PA)

The most recent Fourth Plinth commission was Heather Phillipson’s sculpture The End, which depicted a whirl of cream topped with parasites.

It will remain on show until September 2022.

Past commissions also include Marc Quinn’s sculpture of pregnant Alison Lapper, and Yinka Shonibare’s scaled-down replica of HMS Victory, contained in a glass bottle.

Sir Antony Gormley created One & Other, in which people – including a man who posed naked – took it in turns to spend an hour on the plinth.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting