Transposed over an enlarged £10 bank note, this image of holidaymakers queuing up beside an ice cream van, is rich in memory for artist, Chila Kumari Burman. A magnificent cut-out Bengal tiger on top of the van, its stripes embellished in black crystals, was the iconic symbol of ‘Burman’s’, the business owned by the artist’s father in 1960s Liverpool. Many in the Indian community at that time ran ice cream businesses – Burman’s uncles still run a factory today.
Burman relates this work directly to a childhood ‘filled with confectionery’, and weekends she spent helping her father in the ice cream van. In the print, his presence is suggested by the appearance of a leg climbing into the driver’s side of the van – the rest of his body concealed behind a whorl of the Queen’s hair on the banknote. Ice cream ensured the Burman family’s livelihood, but also established a strong identity in 1960s Liverpool. The tiger on the van, acted like an early form of commercial branding and, in Burman’s words:
…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.
A common motif in Burman’s work, the tiger is both playful, but also directly links to her cultural roots. Similarly, the dazzlingly colourful Swarovski crystal transfers on the print suggest the decorative elements on Indian saris and textiles. Since the mid-1980s, Burman has explored the experiences and aesthetics of what she describes as ‘South Asian feminisms’. In painting, photography, installation, printmaking, video and film, she challenges South Asian female stereotypes, exploring the intersections of gender, class and ethnicity in the construction of identity. The pop aesthetic of her work is rooted in her condition as a British Asian working class woman and an understanding of the diversity of culture. As she 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.
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