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Samson Kambalu and MAO’s Emma Ridgway host a series of seminars on John Ruskin

As John Ruskin's 150th Anniversary approaches, Associate Professor of Fine Art Samson Kambalu, along with Modern Art Oxford's Chief Curator Emma Ridgway host a series of seminars on our radical Ruskin. Seminars - 2 March, 9 March, 25 May 2021.

Second Guild: Some Remarks on the Turning St Crumpet

A series of open performative seminars in which the artist and Ruskin tutor Samson Kambalu proposes a return to the radical John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) through a socialised praxis based around a notion of drawing and unrestricted economics, in anticipation of his solo show New Liberia at Modern Art Oxford, curated by Emma Ridgway, Chief Curator, and Amy Budd, Curator of Projects and Exhibitions. 

The first two seminars presented by TORCH are primarily open to Ruskin students and invited guests, with discussion and question time with Samson Kambalu and Emma Ridgway available at the end. The third and final seminar will be a highlight in the public events programme for Kambalu’s major solo exhibition New Liberia in May 2021.





Venues: TORCH Oxford, Modern Art Oxford

Host: Samson Kambalu, Emma Ridgway (Chief Curator, Modern Art Oxford), TORCH Oxford



A courtyard at Abbeville - John Ruskin


“…. sculptured churches; there was no beadle to lock me out of them…I might haunt them fancying myself a ghost; peep around their pillars… and scandalize nobody; draw in them and disturb none.”



 – John Ruskin, Praeterita





Seminar I: 2 March, 5:30pm-6:30pm – TORCH Oxford


Part I: What is Drawing? Ruskin and Ontological Incompleteness

In which the artist explores Ruskin’s idea of drawing and animatic philosophy through Ruskin’s take on geology, botany, painting, drawing, and architecture – the artist as a “seer” and socialised sovereign individual. 

Part II: Unto This Last: Ruskin and Unrestricted Economics 

In which the artist explores Ruskin’s take on the political economy and the problematic of the gift – art criticism; art institutions; art collecting; patronage; philanthropy; radical politics; communism and utopia. 

Part III: Undefinable Thing:  Ruskin and Contradiction 

In which the artist explores Ruskin’s contradictory approach through controversies that marked his life – rabid Toryism and religiosity; Gothic and Imperial atavism; authoritarianism; anti-Science; and interpassivity.



Seminar II: 9 March, 5:30pm-6:30pm – TORCH Oxford


Part IV: The Coxcomb and a Pot of Paint: Ruskin and the “Death of Art”

In which the artist explores Ruskin’s idea of art in the wake of the so-called “death of art” which has traceable origins in the Ruskin v Whistler trial. 

Part V: Ruskin and Empire 

In which the artist explores Ruskin’s influence around the British Empire, from Gandhi to pan-Africanism, and contextualises his work within trends in contemporary African art including Okwui Enwezor’s Short Century and All the World’s Futures. 

Part VI: The Ruskin School of Art in the 21st Century: Beyond Diggers 

In which the artist re-imagines the Ruskin School of Art in light of a return to the radical Ruskin through socialised praxis around a notion of drawing and unrestricted economics.


Seminar III: 25 May, 5:30pm-6:30pm – Modern Art Oxford, TORCH Oxford


Part VII: New Liberia

An ‘In Conversation’ between Samson Kambalu and Emma Ridgway, in which the artist presents aspects of his significant solo show New Liberia at Modern Art Oxford, that includes a substantial new commission inspired by his exploration of John Ruskin. 





Samson Kambalu is an artist and writer working in a variety of media, including site-specific installation, video, performance and literature. Born in Malawi Kambalu’s work fuses aspects of Chewa prestation culture, the anti-reification strategies of the Situationist movement and the Protestant tradition of inquiry, criticism and dissent. He has developed a praxis around psychogeographical cinema inspired by aspects of cinema of attractions. Samson Kambalu was included in Okwui Enwezor’s All the World’s Futures, Venice Biennale 2015. His recent solo exhibition History Without a Past at Muzee, Ostend, in 2020, was in conversation with Vincent Meessen’s project One.Two.Three which featured for Belgian Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2015. Samson Kambalu’s upcoming shows include a solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford, Athens Biennale 2021, and ARS22 at Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki, Finland.  

Samson Kambalu is an associate professor of fine art at Ruskin School of Art and fellow at Magdalen college, Oxford.



Samson Kambalu Portrait by Jeremy Hibbert


Emma Ridgway is Chief Curator at Modern Art Oxford, leading the artistic programme of exhibitions and learning since 2015. Previously she was a curator at the Barbican Centre, The Royal Society of Arts, Serpentine Gallery, and Khoj International Artists Association, New Delhi. She has degrees in fine art, art history and curating contemporary art from Goldsmiths and The Royal College of Art in London, and is a Clore Cultural Leadership Fellow. Ridgway has recently been awarded the post of Shane Akeroyd Associate Curator for the British Pavilion, 59th International Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia 2022.



Emma Ridgway Portrait by Kirill Kozlov