Kid's view

Why was Tate Britain Covered in Lights?

Can you spot all the different things in Chila Kumari Singh Burman's bright lights?

The facade of Tate Britain is lit up with Chila Kumari Singh Burman's Winter Commission

© Tate (Joe Humphrys)

Every winter, a different artist creates an artwork that decorates Tate Britain during the darkest part of the season. In 2020, Chila Kumari Singh Burman covered the front of Tate Britain in bright lights to cheer everybody up! She called it remembering a brave new world.

Who is Chila Kumari Singh Burman?

Chila Kumari Singh Burman stands in front of her artwork at Tate Britain

© Tate (Joe Humphrys)

Chila Kumari Singh Burman was born in Liverpool. Her parents are from Punjab in northern India. She uses her art to explore different parts of her identity.

She likes to make art about a mix of different things that have influenced her and uses lots of methods including collage and sculpture.

Chila Kumari Singh Burman has chosen to make this artwork using neon lights. She has taken inspiration from Bollywood glamour, Hindu gods and goddesses and memories from her childhood. She’s even included a sculpture of her dad’s ice cream van! Read more about the artist.

The display coincides with Diwali, which is often called the Festival of Lights.

Fun facts about Diwali

Did you know Diwali is the celebration of new beginnings? The festival celebrates good over evil and light over darkness. The word Diwali means ‘a row of lights’. People celebrating Diwali light clay lamps or diyas throughout the five-day festival, as well as lanterns or kandeel. Kandeel are hung outside the house on Diwali night to collect blessings from ancestors. Often, people decorate their homes and set off brightly coloured fireworks.

As well as making her artwork out of lights, Chila Kumari Singh Burman has included different Hindu gods and goddesses including Ganesh and Lakshmi. People celebrating Diwali worship them during the festival.

‘When I was growing up, we didn’t have art on the walls but there would be these calendars with gods and gurus everywhere; I’ve made Tate Britain a bit like a […] temple'

Can you find...

Kids look up at the facade of Tate britain

© Tate

Students from year 6 (age 10 and 11) at Millbank Academy came to see Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s Winter Commission and take part in a workshop. They talked to us about what stood out to them and why.

Read about what they thought and see if you can find all the kids' favourite parts of Chila Kumari Singh Burman's art installation. Have a go!

1. Ice cream van

neon ice cream van

© Tate (Joe Humphrys)

Mikolaj said the best thing about Chila’s artwork was the ice cream van. ‘It is very colourful and there are so many different flavours which could show that we are all different’

Sara also liked the ice cream van because she likes bright lights and they remind her to have a happy attitude. Can you see what the ice cream van says on the side?

Chila Kumari Singh Burman likes to make fun sculptures of giant ice creams. She even made an installation of upside-down ice cream cones all painted in fluorescent rainbow colours and dipped in glitter. Her dad owned an ice cream van and she bought her own ice cream van which she turned into a travelling gallery. The ice cream van also had a tiger on it!

2. Ganesh

Ganesh in neon on the facade of Tate Britain

© Tate (Joe Humphrys)

Ibrahim spotted the god Ganesh. He knew he was the god of prosperity. Ganesh is always depicted as having a little mouse next to him. Can you see a little mouse on the light?

3. Tiger

Neon tiger climbing down stairs at the front of Tate Britain

Can you spot the tiger? Where do you think it is going?

Sara chose the tiger as her favourite part of the installation because it is an endangered animal. Tigers give us the message that you should take pride in what you do. Gillianie also chose the tiger ‘because it looks very fierce and brave’.

4. Lakshmibai

Jhansi Ki Rani neon on the front of Tate Britain

© Tate (Joe Humphrys)

Florence liked the image of Lakshmibai, the Rani (queen) of Jhansi. She said she liked her because ‘she is a fierce warrior, she is very colourful and her story also reminds me of the story of Bouddica’.

Lakshmibai led her troops onto the battlefield against the British in India’s First War of Independence in 1857.

The battle in 1857 was the beginning of a century of India fighting for its freedom from British colonial rule. Lakshmibai became an inspiring symbol of Indian Independence.

5. Lakshmi

Goddess Lakshmi sitting on a lotus flower, made out of neon

Can you spot goddess Lakshmi? She is the goddess of wealth and purity. She is one of the godesses celebrated during Diwali. She sits on a big lotus flower.

The students from Millbank Academy liked the idea of the lotus flower. Sara thought it had a good message that however bad things may be, you must always be resilient and positive to make it the best you can, like the lotus flower that grows in dirty water but is very beautiful.

‘The lotus stood out for me because it grows really dirty place but grows into a beautiful flower. This shows that even if someone or something comes from a different background, if they get the correct care they can become something great’. Jael, age 10

6. Peacock

A peacock and a neon ice cream cone

© Tate (Joe Humphrys)

When she was a child, Chila’s parents took her to Blackpool to see the Illuminations light up the city. There used to be many different animals made out of lights, including peacocks.

Can you see the peacock? Mili and Jael liked the peacock best because it usually hides its feathers, but when it is the peacock’s time to shine it spreads its beautiful feathers.

7. Kali

The top of Tate Britain's facade lit up with neon lights for Chila Kumari Singh Burman's commission

© Tate (Joe Humphrys)

Can you see Kali? She is the goddess of liberation and destruction. Deborah said she ‘adored Kali's representation of freedom. I also love her bravery and strength’.

Chila Kumari Singh Burman says that she she took inspiration for Kali from a magazine she made in the 1980s with a Bollywood actress on the cover.

Ibrahim said the words at the top of the installation were the most inspiring part for him. ‘I think the word ‘dream’ stands out because you should never give up on your dream’.

Mikolaj agreed that the positive messages were the best thing about the installation because they can cheer us all up.

What next?

drawing of a tiger

By Mikolaj, age 10

Which was your favourite part of the installation? Have a go at drawing it!

Workshop designed and facilitated by Pragya Kumar.

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