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In the studio with… Samson Kambalu

25 May 2021

Samson Kambalu is an artist, writer and academic who lives in Oxford, where he is a professor at the Ruskin School of Fine Art. In 2008 he published a novel, The Jive Talker: Or, How to Get a British Passport, based on his own experiences growing up in Malawi – an autobiographical approach that also informs Kambalu’s art in a variety of media. Currently on view at Modern Art Oxford, the exhibition ‘Samson Kambalu: New Liberia’ envisions an initiation ceremony for a utopian world in which racial justice has been achieved. It is the artist’s largest exhibition to date.

Where is your studio? 
On the road.

What do you like most about the space?
It’s ever-cinematic, if you know how to look.

What frustrates you about it?
If I am not looking, it’s never there. I might as well stay home. It’s like going on a hunt – only then do you see it.

Elephant Quilt 1 (detail; 2021), Samson Kambalu

Elephant Quilt 1 (detail; 2021), Samson Kambalu

Do you work alone?
Alone, with strangers or my wife.

How messy is your studio?
Think of the planet Earth.

What’s the weirdest object in there?

Which artistic tool could you least do without?
A portable handheld digital video camera. Definitely.

What’s the most well-thumbed book in your studio?
The Logic of the Gift: Toward an Ethic of Generosity, edited by Alan D. Schrift.

Moses (Burning Bush) (video still; 2015), Samson Kambalu.

Moses (Burning Bush) (video still; 2015), Samson Kambalu. Courtesy the artist and Kate MacGarry

Do you cook in the studio? What’s your typical studio lunch?
Hell no. I can’t eat my own cooking. Warm food.

What do you listen to while you’re working?
Thelonious Monk or Erik Satie – ever against my mother’s mouth bow (nkangala) – and the blues.

Do you ever sleep in your studio?
Oh yes, the answers come to me at dawn.

Is anything (or anyone) banned from your studio?
Prejudice and bad faith.

‘Samson Kambalu: New Liberia’ is at Modern Art Oxford until 5 September.