She’s already lit up Tate Britain, bathing its façade in a neon extravaganza and spreading much needed cheer throughout last year’s most bleak of midwinters. Now it’s the turn of Tate Modern to receive the Chila Kumari Singh Burman treatment. This one-woman powerhouse has just taken over the Tate Edit shop for the 2021 festive season with a characteristically exuberant selection of works and merch that the Indian artist describes as “wild, messy, surreal, abstract, zen, anarchic, figurative, textured, layered and all blinged-up with a razor-sharp political awareness”.
To this end Burman has collaborated with Tate to create a range of goods for all pockets and purposes, especially for those of a maximalist tendency. Wares include bling-tastic jewellery, Burman-designed t-shirts and hoodies, stickers, stationary and even a special selection of very reasonably priced neons, including renditions of her trademark tiger, ice cream cone and peacock. (Reader, I succumbed and bought a neon Burman eye…)
These are all to be found by Tate Modern’s Riverside entrance displayed in a special Burman-designed environment, where visitors can browse Chila’s favourite books, listen to her music playlist and wander amongst some of the iconic illuminated pieces she made for the 2020 Tate Britain Commission, including her neon tiger and the sculpture of her family’s ice cream van. In honour of her father, Bachan Singh, who came to the UK from the Punjab in the 1950s and for many years sold ice cream on the beach at Bootle, there is also the opportunity to taste Burman’s Ice Cream, named after Burman Senior’s business and made especially for Tate.
Both the Tate director Maria Balshaw and Tate Modern director Frances Morris were in attendance at Wednesday night’s launch of this most maximalist of shopping experiences which was presided over by Chila and further enhanced by a spirited performance of classical Indian dance from Mira Salat.
Bathed in neon and consuming lashings of Burman ice cream to a rousing soundtrack, whilst (in my case at least) making multiple purchases, it seemed that the festive season had been kicked off with a vengeance. Sadly this winter no artist is being let loose on the Millbank frontage of Tate Britain, but at least some solace can be found in the abundance of Burman-induced cheer further up river.