The addition of Kambalu’s film Moses to the Permanent Collection Gallery at Bury Museum interjects a new medium to the historical oil paintings that dominate the space, expanding representations and ideas of landscape. Central to Kambalu’s work is the idea of the gift – ‘the gift of time’ as he describes it – and a momentary pause is required to absorb the film that shows the artist throwing his hat up in the air in a landscape in Arizona. Kambalu’s film responds spontaneously to the landscape in which it is created in opposition to the landscape paintings in the collection that are painted over a much longer period. Kambalu’s playful movement and the changing of the film’s colour enhance the magical qualities of the hat hovering ‘like a bird’ in the air, reinforcing Kambalu’s notion of film ‘being a form of miracle’.
Influenced by Situationism, Western philosophical thought, silent film, and by spiritual rituals practiced in South-East Africa, Samson Kambalu embraces the subversive potential of non-productive time, the gift economy and the notion of playing.
He is best known for his Nyau Cinema, an ongoing series of short films that are made in various locations around the world where the artist explores new places with his camera, using his own body as the subject of his playful, spontaneous and site-specific performative actions. Kambalu’s films are often based on Nyau Culture, a secret society of the Chewa tribe in Malawi, which is especially known for its ritual mask performances. Influenced by the experience of watching films as a child in Malawi, his films have the look of found footage from early cinema and have been described as ‘cinematic fragments that blend slapstick and spiritual ritual’.
A focus of contemporary collecting at Bury Art Museum has been the development of the Text Art Archive with a focus on language art and Kambalu’s vinyl text piece that accompanies his film is a timely addition to this collection. The acquisition of works by Samson Kambalu is also an important signal of Bury’s commitment to re-address the balance of the permanent collection and the society it represents.
Samson Kambalu (b. 1975, Chiradzulo, Malawi) lives and works in Oxford. Recent solo exhibitions include PEER, London (2020); Kate MacGarry, Statements, Art Basel, Switzerland (2017); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2016). Recent group-shows include Mu.ZEE, Ostend, Belgium (2020); La Villette, Paris, France (2017); Venice Biennale, Italy (2015).