Chila Burman unveils neon dreamland at Covent Garden Market
Chila Burman emblazons London’s market building in Covent Garden with a spectrum of neon lights. Here, the artist explains the story behind the new installation, an ode to identity, hope and magic
Those passing through London’s Covent Garden are seeing the iconic market building in a whole new light. In the same spirit as her monumental outdoor takeover of Tate Britain’s facade in 2020, British artist Chila Burman’s bold new multi-part installation, Do You See Words in Rainbows celebrates love and identity in the modern world as it draws on the area’s rich history.
Burman’s is the latest in Covent Garden’s series of large commissions, which has featured works by, among others, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Anya Hindmarch.
In addition to elevating moods with large light sculptures, bold colors and optimistic messages, the installation will also offer tangible support to the LGBTQI + community following the recent cancellation of Pride London 2021 due to Covid-19. For every Instagram post (and there will surely be many) snapped under the neon wonderland, Covent Garden will donate £ 1 to the Albert Kennedy Trust, a charity for homelessness for young people.
For those who are unable to visit the Commission physically, the installation will be accessible via an interactive portal on the Covent Garden website via the 3D platform Matterport. We talk to Chila Burman about the inspiration behind her new kaleidoscopic project.
Background *: What appealed to you about the idea of creating a piece for Covent Garden’s historic market building?
Chila Burman: At first, it was my connection to Covent Garden that appealed. Since I moved to London in the 1980s, I have been attracted to the area; I attended Slade nearby, swam every morning in the Oasis Sports Center and have always loved the atmosphere. From entertainers on the street to the amazing shops and restaurants, Covent Garden has always retained a sense of magic for me. And it was this magical idea I wanted to capture in my piece. I want to bring joy and wonder to the public in much the same way, especially since our lives are still affected by covid.
W *: What inspired the themes and motifs in the installation?
CB: As in much of my practice, key sources of inspiration in this installation include identity, memory, feminist perspectives, mythology, and my Hindu Punjabi heritage.
I have used bright colors throughout the installation in honor of the images and messages I associate with life memories from my childhood. I specifically wanted to honor the magic of entertainment and was especially inspired by my parents, who were both entertainers. My father, a magician in India, wanted to entertain his colleagues, friends and family in our house for parties. My mother wanted to entertain everyone in our temple and at weddings. I felt I honored them, and their love of entertaining through this bright, engaging installation and all of its elements created a perfect link to Covent Garden’s rich history of street performers and magicians.
Inspiration from my Hindu Punjabi heritage also takes the form of luminous neon sculptures, some of which will be recycled from my Tate [Britain] winter commission to reduce the environmental impact. You will see familiar pieces along with new ones I have worked hard on, and of course the tiger motif that I have used a lot throughout my practice.
The shape of the suspended octagon in the middle was chosen because of its symbolism in different cultures. It has been used throughout history to represent rebirth, regeneration, transition and direction. From the eightfold path to enlightenment, to the points of a compass, I felt that this form would remind us to think about where we are going, the next steps in our new post-pandemic normal, and how we should live by the best abilities.
W *: What was the most entertaining part of the creative process and the most challenging?
CB: The most entertaining part is always figuring out how I can make my installation the most representative of my practice. It is important to ensure that it conveys an uplifting message, but I would also like to highlight the significant role that my legacy and contributions from black and Asian British artists have played to this country. More now than ever, we need reminders of the value that diversity brings to our world and the strength of uniting to overcome some of the inequalities that affect so many.
W *: What message do you hope those who experience the work will take from it?
CB: This installation is a celebration of my Hindu Punjabi culture, it is bright, bubbly, colorful and kaleidoscopic. I designed it to bring joy, positivity and a sense of magic to the public. It will be a real experience for everyone who comes to see it, whether it is personal or virtual, I hope people will feel uplifted and inspired. §