The Rebel Statues at Trafalgar

The Rebel Statues at Trafalgar

“Do you see the statues, those must be new here” Lulu, my parrot, fluttered his wings and landed on my shoulder, as I reached the Trafalgar Square.

“Oh yes, those are new, they were not there when we visited two years ago.” I was amazed at Lulu’s memory. We had skipped our annual visit to London last year, and we always visit the Trafalgar Square when in London. “Two men facing each other. I wonder what that indicates.”

(Statues of Chilembwe and Chorley at Trafalgar Square)

“The tall one is of John Chilembwe. He was a Baptist preacher and pan-Africanist. And the smaller statue is of European missionary John Chorley. Chilembwe led an uprising against the British occupation and colonial rule.

“He is wearing the hat sideways; am I seeing it right?”

“Yes, you are. It is a protest against the rule. Africans were prohibited by rule from wearing hats in front of white people.”

“The artist is portraying the defiant, the rebel Chilembwe as bigger than the missionary! Almost twice the size!!”

“You got it right. Rebels appear bigger than they are to the rulers. Fear! Fear creates hat perception.”

“Like when union appears on the scene, managements think of them as the biggest threat! That’s interesting. Chilembwe was a freedom fighter, a Malawi freedom fighter who was protesting against the British colonial rule. He was a rebel.”

“A rebel wants to create something new. He thinks of a different society. He is willing to die for a cause. That makes him appear bigger and taller. The sculptor has clearly conveyed this message; or I have read it so.”

“The statues look different to me now! Rebels as the creators of a new society.”

“Osho says, ‘The reactionary is the lowest category. He can never disconnect himself from the past. The past is his orientation, he reacts against it. But whether you are for it or against it, it remains your reference, your context.’”

“Hmmmm ….”

“He says, ‘The revolutionary is a little higher than the reactionary. He does not only react, he also has dreams of the future, he has his utopias. The rebel is a creator; his whole philosophy is that of creativity. The rebel will be ready to die, but he will not be ready to kill.’”

“This is interesting. Insightful! Where do you place Chilembwe?”

“Do not take the discussion on that track, it will not serve our purpose. We are talking of the statues, and the art. An artist is essentially a rebel.”

“Don’t tell me that!”

(Lulu, my parrot)

“Plays, songs, films, sculptures. Art and protests have often grown like twins.”

“Songs and plays inspired our freedom fighters. They brought forth a new vision of India.”

“Right. That is why art plays a role in reshaping the society.”

“Never thought of art like that …. But don’t we deify our leaders, don’t we think that they were infallible?”

“There is a lesson to learn. We have to look at the history dispassionately and understand people in their context.”

“Yup! Deifying them means not ‘understanding’ them but placing them on such a high pedestal that no human being can ever rise to its level.”


“Like all of us they too acted on half information in many cases. In hindsight we can assign motives, find faults or give credit more than they deserve.”

“True! But to display Chilembwe’s statue at Trafalgar Square is also a rebellious act. He was protesting against British colonial rule. The British missionary John Chorley’s statue is made life size, and Chilembwe’s statue is much larger than life size. The protester, the rebel is bigger than the British missionary. To find this sculpture at Trafalgar Square in London beats me!”

Lulu waited for my response.

“Will your leaders be willing to erect a statue of Jawahar or Savarkar?” Lulu asked, but flew away without waiting for my answer.

Vivek S Patwardhan

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”