TALL FLY GIRL! Auto-Portrait (Fly Girl Series) 1993 is a colourful self-portrait composed of numerous small images of the artist’s face arranged into a kaleidoscopic pattern. It is one of the largest early examples of Burman’s iconic and long-running series known as the ‘auto-portraits’. The original source material for the auto-portraits is a series of black and white photographic self-portraits of the artist in a variety of different guises inspired by both western and Indian popular culture, including a nun, the goddess Kali, a Rastafarian woman, and 1960s Vogue models. The artist hand-painted these photographs and decorated the backgrounds to create a grid of twenty-eight brightly coloured paintings (28 Positions in 34 Years 1992, Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery). The paintings were then digitally manipulated using the laser photocopier at Haringey Council offices in north London. TALL FLY GIRL! Auto-Portrait (Fly Girl Series) is comprised of multiple photocopied sheets of paper arranged in a grid-like composition.
This repetition of the artist’s self-image speaks to the multiplicity of identities as theorised contemporaneously in the 1990s by academics such as Stuart Hall. As the artist has explained:
These self-portraits position the construction of racial and sexual identity as a process that is crafted and fluid within the process of representation. My manipulation of the photographic image questions the idea of the photograph as a document of the empirical reality to reveal ‘an image of myself’ … My work is about a continual exploration of my dual cultural identity and the construction of identities other than my own.
(Burman, quoted in Nead 1995, p.46.)
Burman’s pioneering use of the laser photocopier is an extension of her expanded printmaking practice, developed when she was a postgraduate student at the Slade School of Fine Art, London in the early 1980s when she created her Riot Series 1981–2 (Tate T14090–T14095). Burman’s philosophy is that printmaking is ‘a democratic, versatile, colourful, creative, experimental, drawing and photographic medium’ (quoted in Hiroko Hagiwara, ‘Chila Kumari Burman’, Feminist Art News, vol.3, no.1, 1989, p.28).
TALL FLY GIRL! Auto-Portrait (Fly Girl Series) was included in the exhibition Transforming the Crown: African, Asian, and Caribbean Artists in Britain, 1966–1996, initiated by the Caribbean Cultural Center, New York and held at Studio Museum, Harlem and Bronx Museum, New York in 1997.
Lynda Nead, Chila Kumari Burman: Beyond Two Cultures, London 1995, reproduced p.47.
Mora J. Beauchamp-Byrd and M. Franklin Sirmans (eds.), Transforming the Crown: African, Asian, and Caribbean Artists in Britain, 1966–1996, exhibition catalogue, Caribbean Cultural Center, New York 1997, reproduced p.96.
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