Our Featured Work this month is BENGAL TIGER VAN – Raspberry Ripples, Chila’s Dad selling ice-cream on Freshfield Beach, Merseyside 1976 by artist Chila Kumari Singh Burman. This mixed media artwork is inspired by memories of Burman’s family in 1960s Liverpool. Born to Punjabi-Hindu parents, the artist engages with questions of cultural hybridity grounded in her life experience.

BENGAL TIGER VAN - Raspberry Ripples, Chila’s Dad selling ice-cream on Freshfield Beach, Merseyside 1976 by Chila Kumari Singh Burman

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The tiger referred to in the title, is a common theme in the artist’s work. Here, the feline features mid-leap, as a cut-out insignia on top of an ice cream van. Transposed over an enlarged £10 bank note, this image of queuing holidaymakers evokes memories of Burman’s childhood. Ice cream ensured the family’s livelihood, but also established a strong identity in 1960s Liverpool. The tiger on the van, acted as a brand, which in Burman’s words was:

…enmeshed with the fabric of the city and the shapes, colours and advertising of the freewheeling ‘60s and ‘70s – a time when the sexual revolution was celebrated alongside the aesthetics of advertising and pop culture.

The pop aesthetic of her work is rooted in her condition as a British Asian working class woman embedded in a culturally diverse background. As Burman explains:

My work is informed by popular culture, Hindi films, classic, retro international fashion, found objects, the politics of feminisms, the celebration of femininity; self-portraiture exploring the production of my own sexuality and dynamisms … the relationship between popular culture and high art, gender and identity politics.

Chila Kumari Singh Burman was born in Bootle, in 1957, to Punjabi-Hindu parents who had just emigrated to England. Burman attended Southport College of Art, Leeds Polytechnic, and Slade School of Fine Art, completing her MA in 1982. Part of the Black British Art movement in the 1980s, her work is represented in public collections including Tate, Wellcome Trust, British Council, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Science Museum and the Arts Council.

Burman participated in the exhibition, Illuminating India: 5000 Years of Science and Innovation (Science Museum, 2017-18); and Which Way North, for the Great Exhibition of the North (2018). In 2017, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in recognition of her outstanding contribution to art; and an Honorary Fellowship, from the University of the Arts, London. In 2018, Burman featured in A Passage to Britain, a BBC television series exploring the emigration of Asian families to Britain in the 1950s.