Samson Kambalu is an artist and filmmaker whose interdisciplinary practice incorporates subjects as diverse as modernist art history, silent films, and the spiritual traditions of southeast Africa, each collected as examples of deviant or transgressive humor that has long inspired him. For his first major project, Holy Ball (2000), also presented at the 2015 Biennale di Venezia, Kambalu glued pages of the Bible around a football and invited participants to play with it—to “exercise” and “exorcise” the object. The sculpture cum performance was inspired by a religion that Kambalu invented at the age of eleven, a blend of Nietzschean philosophy, Malawian masquerade, and Freudian theory, among other cultural fragments. Kambalu’s “Holyballism” attests to his unconventional and cross-cultural education. The Holy Ball represents a kind of playful blasphemy wherein the cult status of religious text is challenged by the collective joy of football, a globally cherished pastime. Kambalu has also produced a series of short silent films in which he performs various actions or behaviors in the style of slapstick comedy. He refers to these film “rants” as Nyau Cinema, implying an act of radical public expression. These films are being exhibited at the Biennale online, thus inhabiting the new spaces of expression employed by social media users.
Kambalu’s current work, which involves the concept of the gift, draws from research he undertook at the Yale Center for British Art in 2013, where he consulted the recently acquired papers of Gianfranco Sanguinetti, a member of the Italian political protest art movement known as Situationist International. Sanguinetti’s sale of his archives to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale provoked an angry letter from his former English translator and web host Bill Brown in December 2013. Kambalu presents Brown’s letter, reproduced as a large stenciled mural at the Biennale di Venezia, as a “gift” to, and extension of, the Situationist project. Kambalu’s mural will be augmented by a set of “detourned” photographs of images and text found in the Sanguinetti collection, which have been altered and recontextualized through photographic framing, destabilizing their archival resonance, and inviting new types of interactions with the past. Designating his installation as a “Breakout Area,” Kambalu sees his contribution as a flexible and participatory hub within the Biennale.