For its first exhibition post-lockdown, Liverpool-based OUTPUT gallery (run by Gabrielle de la Puente, one half of The White Pube) will reopen this August with three moving image works by Chila Kumari Singh Burman, including a new piece developed during quarantine in collaboration with Susanne Dietz. The exhibition comes ahead of her major Winter Commission to transform Tate Britain’s façade later this year, for which she plans to diverge from the usual Christmas theme and instead concentrate on Diwali – the Hindu festival of light and hope.
For anyone not familiar with Burman’s work, the first thing to expect from her show at OUTPUT is her signature use of saturated colour. The next is humour. Since the mid-1980s, Burman has made a name for herself working across print, painting, photography, film and installation to playfully satirise and critique identity-based stereotypes, particularly those that exist around Asian women and femininity. (The titles alone of the three pieces that will be on show – ‘Candy Pop and Juicy Lucy’ (2008), ‘Dada and The Punjabi Princess’ (2017) and ‘Armour’ (2020) – hint towards this.) She describes her work as the coming together of high art and popular culture, with a post-punk feel, citing ‘Bollywood, Dada and Surrealism, Hindu philosophy, Indian comics’ and her mum among her influences and employing an ‘aesthetics of collecting’ centred around bindis, hairpieces, cheap jewels and other ‘girly’ accessories.
Burman was born in 1957 in Bootle to parents who emigrated there from the Punjab region following partition. Childhood memories and her family heritage feature prominently in her work, using the private to address wider social, historical and political issues, particularly around gender, class and race. Ice cream is a reoccurring motif connected with her father who owned an ice cream van in Liverpool. Sewing and embroidery also often feature; her family came from the tailoring class in India, her mother used to sew, and her father was previously a tailor for Dunlop. Though she lives and works in London now, she remains in every way connected to her Liverpudlian/Punjabi roots.
As an artist whose work centres around questions of representation and posits the idea of multiple selfhoods over static or imposed identities, Burman’s work remains hyper-relevant to our current time. We’re especially looking forward to seeing her latest film, ‘Armour’, which was made during lockdown.
Note: As OUTPUT is mindful that some members of its usual audience will still be shielding, the gallery will be releasing a podcast series of interviews with solo exhibitors discussing their exhibition and wider art practice.