Chila Kumari Burman is a British artist. Her work explores not only her immediate family but the problematic representations of South Asian women and their histories in the UK, through the lens of self-representation and identity politics. She was born in Liverpool and attended the Southport College of Art, the Leeds Polytechnic and Slade School of Fine Art, where she graduated in 1982. She works in printmaking, painting, installation and film, and was part of the Black British Art movement of the 1980s. She draws on fine and pop art imagery in works that explore Asian femininity and her personal family history, merging Bollywood bling with childhood memories. Burman was one of the first British Asian female artists to have a monograph written about her work: Lynda Nead’s Chila Kumari Burman: Beyond Two Cultures (1995), and a second monograph by Nead was published in 2012.
Chila Burman on science as inspiration for her art
She was born in Bootle, near Liverpool. Her parents were Punjabi Hindus and they moved to the UK in the 1950s. This fact of biography has provided Burman with the means to critically examine the situation of South Asian women through herself, her family, her parents and her grandparents, as a second-generation artist of Pakistani origins in the UK. Her works – particularly her prints from the 1980s – were shown with other Black British artists and part of their political protest in the 1980s and 1990s against the police, against racism in British society and particularly stereotypes of South Asian women.
In the 1980s her work was shown in many black British artists shows from: Four Indian Women Artists (UK Artists Gallery, 1982); to Black Women Time Now (Battersea Arts Centre, London, 1983); The Thin Black Line (ICA, London, 1985); Black Art: New Directions (Stoke on Trent Museum and Art Gallery, 1989); and the feminist exhibition Along the Lines of Resistance (Rochdale Art Gallery and touring, 1989).
In the 1990s and 2000s her work has explored her family history and her father’s work as an ice-cream seller in Bootle (in her exhibitions Candy-Pop & Juicy Lucy, Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich, London, 2006; Ice Cream and Magic, The Pump House, People’s History Museum, Manchester, 1997). In the 1990s, her work began to be shown internationally and she was in the Fifth Havana Biennale (1994); in Transforming the Crown (Studio Museum, Harlem and Bronx Museum, New York, 1997); Genders and Nations (with Shirin Neshat; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, New York State, 1998). Her retrospective touring show, 28 Positions in 34 Years, went to Camerawork, London; Liverpool Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool; Oldham Art Gallery; Huddersfield Art Gallery; Street Level Gallery, Glasgow; Cardiff Technical College, Cardiff; Watermans Arts Centre, London. In the 2000s, she has increasingly shown between UK and the Asian sub-continent, taking part in key feminist and South Asian women artists’ exhibitions that explore the diaspora of South Asian identities: e.g. South Asian Women of the Diaspora (Queens Library, New York, 2001) and Text and Subtext (Earl-Lu Gallery, Lasalle-SIA University, Singapore, 2000) toured to Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney, Australia, in 2000 and Ostiasiataka Museet (Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities) Stockholm, in 2001, Sternersenmuseet, Oslo, Norway, and Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan; X-ray Art Centre (Rui Wen Hua Yi Shu Zhong Xin), Beijing, China, in 2002 (exhibition catalogue).
In 1987, she wrote "There have always been Great Blackwomen Artists", exploring the situation of black women artists in relation to Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay "Why have there been no Great Women Artists?2 (first published in Women Artists Slide Library Journal no. 15 (February 1987) and then in Hilary Robinson (ed.), Visibly Female (London: Camden Press, 1987); also reproduced in Collective Black Women Writers, Charting the Journey: An Anthology on Black and Third World Writers (London: Sheba Publishers). Her work appeared on the bookjacket of Meera Syal's two novels on first publication: Anita and Me (Doubleday/Transworld, 1996); Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee (Doubleday/Transworld, 1999) as well as the covers of James Proctor (ed.), Writing Black Britain, 1948-1998 (Manchester University Press, 2001); Roger Bromley (ed.), Narratives for a New Belonging: Diasporic Cultural Fictions (Edinburgh University Press, 2000); and Peter Childs and Patrick Williams, An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory (Prentice Hall, 1998).
2000: "Storm in a D-Cup", Artists Newsletter [http://www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/artists_stories/single/59679]
1999: Artist’s statements in Frances Borzello, Women and Self Portraiture (Thames and Hudson)
Artist's Statement in "West Coast Line Here and There Between South Asia’s", New Writing from Canada and India, nos. 26 and 27
"Crossing Cultures", artist's statement in "KHOJ International Workshops", Artists Newsletter Magazine, January
1998: "Objects of Désireé", Artists Pages with Lucretia Knapp n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal, Vol. 1, January
Artist's statement in Sue Golding, Eight Technologies of Otherness (London: Routledge)
1995: "Automatic Rap", in Catherine Ugwu (ed.), Let’s Get It On: The Politics of Black Performance (London: ICA, and Seattle: Bay Press), p. 113
"Right to Hope", in One World Art (UNESCO)
1993: "Enough is Enough", Feminist Art News, Vol. 4, No. 5
1992: "Power to the People: Fear of a Black Community", Feminist Art News, Vol. 3, no.9
"Ask How I feel/ Automatic Rap/ My New Work", Third Text, No. 19, Summer
1991: "Ask How I Feel", Feminist Arts News, Vol. 3, No. 6 (also guest editor for this issue on "Working Class Women Artists")
"Power to the people: fear of a black community", Feminist Arts News, vol. 3, no. 9, pp. 14–15
1990: "Talking in Tongues", in Maud Sulter (ed.), Passion: Discourses on Black Women’s Creativity (Hebden Bridge: Urban Fox Press)
Errol Lloyd, review of The Thin Black Line, ArtRage (London), November
1982: C. Collier, "Four Indian Women Artists: Bhajan Hunjan, Naomi Iny, Chila Kuman Burman, Vinodini Ebdon (Indian Artists UK Gallery, London: Exhibition Review)", Arts Review (UK), Vol. 34, No. 2 (15 January 1982), p. 18
Works by Chila Kumari Burman are in the following public and private collections: Alfredo Lam Centre, Havana, Cuba; Arts Council Collection Great Britain, London; BBC Bush House, London; Berge Collection, Spain; Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham; Sir Richard Branson; British Council, London; Cartwright Hall, Bradford; Devi Foundation, New Delhi; Linda Goodman, Johannesburg; Leicester New Walk Art Gallery, Leicester; New Art Gallery, Walsall; Rotary Club of Art, Chennai; Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Wellcome Trust, London.
In 2012, she was artist in residence at ART CHENNAI and produced the exhibition pREpellers, curated by Kavita Balakrishnan for Art Chennai, Art and Soul gallery. In 2011–12 her residency at the Poplar HARCA centre, London concluded with a major solo exhibition in this local community centre. Her residency from February 2009 to March 2010 at the University of East London, was the result of a Leverhulme Award. For three years, January 2006 to December 2009, she was artist in residence at Villiers High School, Southall, London. From January 2004 to 2016, she has been a Board member at Richmix London (and was Vice-Chair, 2008–2010). In 1986, she took part in producing The Roundhouse Mural Project, Camden, London and in 1985 produced The Southall Black Resistance Mural, in collaboration with Keith Piper.
2011: Fragments of My Imagination, Paradox Gallery, Singapore, toured to Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong (exhibition catalogue)
2006: CANDY-POP & JUICY LUCY, Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich, London, UK (Iniva education project) (exhibition catalogue) *2005–07: Damascus and Aleppo, British Council touring exhibition
2005: Chila Kumari Burman, 1995–present, Waterside Arts Centre, Manchester, UK
2004: Material Serendipity, Plymouth Arts Centre (exhibition catalogue, Lynn Nead), toured to Cecil Higgins Gallery + Museum, Bedford, Nottingham: New Art Exchange (Apna Arts)
2003: Points of View, Hastings Museum & Art Gallery, Hastings, UK
2003: Enchanting the Icon, Sakshi Gallery. (exhibition catalogue, Marta Jakimowi)
2002: Visual Autobiographies, Rich Mix, London (exhibition catalogue, Leverhulme artist-in-residence)
1999: Hello Girls!, Andrew Mummery Gallery, London, UK; Northbrook College of Technology; Bretton Hall, Leeds University, UK; Rochester Art Gallery, Rochester, UK
1996: Between the Visible and Invisible, National College of the Arts, Lahore, Pakistan
1995: 28 Positions in 34 Years (retrospective touring show), Camerawork, London, UK; Liverpool Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, UK; Oldham Art Gallery, Oldham, UK; Huddersfield Art Gallery, Huddersfield, UK; Street Level Gallery, Glasgow, UK; Cardiff Technical College, Cardiff, UK; Watermans Arts Centre, London, UK
2010: Seeing In Colour, British Council Touring Show, Bottega-Gallery, Kiev, Ukraine; Centre for Urban History, Lviv, Ukraine; Academy of Arts, Tbilisi, Georgia; Academy of Fine Arts, Baku, Azerbaijan (exhibition catalogue)
2010: ORIENTATIONS trajectories in Indian Art, Foundation DE11 Lijnen, Oudenburg, Belgium (exhibition catalogue)
2010: NINE: Her magic square, The Viewing Room Gallery, Mumbai
2002: Art of Nations, Visual Arts Centre, North Lincolnshire, UK
2002: A Thousand Ways of Being: Memory and Presence in the Arts of Diaspora, October Gallery, London, UK
2001: First Valencia Biennial, Valencia, Spain
2001: South Asian Women of the Diaspora, Queens Library, New York, USA
2000: Text and Subtext, Earl-Lu Gallery, Lasalle-SIA University, Singapore; toured to Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney, Australia, in 2000; Ostiasiataka Museet (Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities) Stockholm, Sweden in 2001; Sternersenmuseet, Oslo, Norway; Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan; and X-ray Art Centre (Rui Wen Hua Yi Shu Zhong Xin), Beijing, China in 2002. (exhibition catalogue)
2000: A Grand Design, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK
1999/2000: Sister India exhibition, club night of Asian performers and artists, touring the UK