British Indian artist’s vibrant ice cream van in race for Trafalgar Square plinth

Chila Kumari Burman’s ‘The Smile You Send Returns To You’ is among seven proposals unveiled by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan on Monday as the new set of choices for the plinth at the iconic landmark.
Last Updated 20 February 2024, 13:38 IST

London: A vibrant installation by a British Indian artist inspired by her father’s migration from India to the UK is on the shortlist for a public vote to choose the next sculpture to adorn the Fourth Plinth on Trafalgar Square.

Chila Kumari Burman’s ‘The Smile You Send Returns To You’ is among seven proposals unveiled by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan on Monday as the new set of choices for the plinth at the iconic landmark, which rotates between artworks reflective of and celebrating the multicultural UK capital.

At the centre of Burman’s sculpture is her father’s ice cream van named The Rocket, which is a recurring motif in the award-winning artist’s work as a metaphor for a childhood memory and a symbol of optimism.

“It tells of the artist’s own lived experience, and her father’s voyage on the HMS Battory from India to the UK”, reads the description.

“It is a story of resourcefulness and entrepreneurship, amid the struggle of adapting to a new life elsewhere. A journey that took him from Calcutta’s Dunlop factory, where his magic tricks earnt his transfer overseas, to Liverpool’s Dunlop factory,” it said.

Liverpool-born and London-based Burman calls herself a “Punjabi Liverpudlian” and is celebrated for her radical feminist practice, which examines representation, gender and cultural identity.

She is joined on the shortlist by artists Gabriel Chaile, Ruth Ewan, Thomas J Price, Veronica Ryan, Tschabalala Self and Andra Ursuţa who have all created maquettes of their proposed artworks which are on display at the National Gallery until March 17.

“The Fourth Plinth is located just a few yards from the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, and I am delighted that we can host the exhibition of the shortlisted artists’ proposals in the gallery,” said Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery.

“It is important that we find ways to encourage the public to look at and become interested in art, whether it’s the great pictures in our museums or new art in public spaces, and I would encourage the public to have their say on these exciting proposals,” he said.

The proposals will also be available to view online and on the free Bloomberg Connects app and two winning works will be announced next month and installed on the Fourth Plinth in 2026 and 2028 respectively.

“The Fourth Plinth is renowned across the globe for bringing world-class contemporary art to the heart of London. I’m delighted that our shortlisted artists have provided such thought-provoking pieces,” said Justine Simons, Deputy Mayor for Culture, Creative Industries.

“For 25 years, the sculptures on the Fourth Plinth have sparked interest and debate – bringing out the art critic in everybody. I’ve no doubt that these proposals will continue that fantastic tradition,” she said.

‘Improntas’ (Imprints) by Teresa Margolles has already been announced as the next sculpture on the Fourth Plinth in September 2024. The work is made up of plaster casts of the faces of hundreds of trans people which will be arranged around the plinth in the form of a Tzompantli, a skull rack from Mesoamerican civilisations.

The work will begin to naturally erode whilst on the Fourth Plinth, with the detail of the faces slowly fading as the plaster is exposed to London’s weather. The work is a tribute to a transgender woman called Karla who was murdered in Mexico in 2016 and stands for the rights of trans communities worldwide.

(Published 20 February 2024, 13:38 IST)

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