WHEN Chila Kumari Singh Burman received an honorary degree from the University of the Arts in 2018, its vice-chancellor, Sir Nigel Carrington, called the Punjabi lass from Liverpool – as the artist still likes to think of herself – “the zeitgeist of our times”.
Over a period of 40 years, her work has spanned “multiple media, from printmaking and painting, to installation and film,” the university said, adding, that Chila “has pieces in the Tate, Victoria and Albert Museum, Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Wellcome Trust, as well as numerous international institutions”.
She was born in Bootle in 1957 and took up arts full time at the age of 19 “because I was running away from an arranged marriage”.
That is a joke but perhaps with an element of truth. She took up art because she excelled at it and it was also the subject in which she got top marks at school. Over the years, she has been called a “black artist”, a “British Asian artist”, a “feminist artist”, and “an Indian artist”. She now feels she has outgrown them all. “I am an artist now,” she says. “I am on my own.”
In the last couple of years, she has come to be associated with a tiger made from neon lights which has been following her round the country. She is not exaggerating when she reveals: “There are so many messages when I switch on my phone now in the morning – someone somewhere wants me to do something.”
She has been an active and much respected artist over the decades but has been the hottest property on the arts scene ever since she lit up Tate Britain in November 2020.
Technically, it was a “winter commission” but because of the auspicious time of the year and