The Deptford Mermaid
Seeking inspiration from Deptford’s dockyard history and the historic relationship the community has with the River Thames, Chila Kumari Singh Burman has created The Deptford Mermaid for Deptford X 2021. The work subverts the historic, often sexualised, symbolism of the mermaid and reclaims their use as a good luck charm, to help calm stormy waters.
Inspired by Chila’s time as a student in the 1970’s; her childhood growing up on the beach in Merseyside; and holidays visiting the Blackpool illuminations in which larger than life mermaids were often displayed, the work combines punk and pop aesthetics and references the bright colours, forms and intense patterns found in Hindu culture.
The Deptford Mermaid reclaims the mermaid as a feminist icon subverting the mermaid of popular culture, which serves as an idealistic and sexualised representation of the female form. Chila’s mermaid is a powerful statement on the strength of female energy and the importance of disrupting patriarchal world views.
Chila Kumari Singh Burman is celebrated for her radical feminist practice which examines representation, gender and cultural identity. She works across a wide range of mediums including printmaking, drawing, painting, installation and film.
Born in Bootle, to Punjabi-Hindu parents, she attended Southport College of Art, Leeds Polytechnic and the Slade School of Fine Art. A key figure in the British Black Arts movement in the 1980s, Burman has since remained rooted in her understating of the diverse nature of culture. Continually seeking to break stereotypes and emancipate the image of women, she often uses self-portraiture as a tool of empowerment and self-determination.
More recently Burman was selected as the fourth artist to complete the Tate Britain Winter Commission in 2020. The resulting hugely popular installation Remembering A Brave New World, addressed the colonial history of Tate Britain and its Eurocentric position. Adorning the gallery façade with references to Indian mythology, popular culture, female empowerment, political activism and colonial legacy. Exposing a need for better informed conversations and more effective strategies for tackling racism in the art world and wider society.
In 2017, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate and Honorary Fellowship from the University of Arts in London. And has exhibited widely with notable solo shows held at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA), Middlesbrough; Output Gallery, Liverpool and Tate Britain, London. Her works are also represented in many museums and public galleries including Tate, London; Wellcome Trust, London; British Council; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Science Museum, London and Arts Council Collection, England.
Chila Kumari Singh Burman lives and works in London, England.