Chila Kumari Singh Burman: Merseyside Burman Empire


“Like popping candy for the mind.” Mike Pinnington on Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s Merseyside Burman Empire at FACT Liverpool…

A riot of colour hits you on arrival. Initially it’s hard for the eyes to settle; the brain scrambles to catch up and take in the kaleidoscopic sugar hit of imagery, mediums, and semiotic nudges and winks. The effect is like popping candy for the mind.

Multiple bits of neon (including a loping tiger) adorn the walls, or seemingly hang in space; there is a tuk tuk – a real one that you can sit in; collaged wallpaper replete with all manner of decoration: glitter, costume jewellery and bindis.

Meanwhile, sound blares from film works shown on a large screen in the corner of one end of the space. This is Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s Merseyside Burman Empire, a seductive, joyful, multi-layered dissection of cultural identity which has occupied FACT Liverpool’s upstairs gallery space since August last year.

Born in Bootle to Punjabi-Hindu parents, the artist’s work is infused with experiences particular to her. The tuk tuk is a typical example of this approach; a signifier of transport not usually seen on the streets of the UK (let alone Liverpool), here it is host to three films exploring the artist’s heritage and how that plays out for different generations of her family.


The first film, Candy Pop & Juicy Lucy (2008), with its instantly recognisable soundtrack many will associate with endless summers past, responds to Burman’s childhood memories of her dad’s ice cream van business. In 2017’s Dada and the Punjabi Princess, a female protagonist guides us through scenarios with a mixture of pointed – quizzical, playful and questioning – facial expressions and dance, accompanied by slogans to match: ‘stormy, vibrant, paradoxical times’; ‘our blood is hotter than our parents’; ‘populism rises again’. With 1996′s Kamla, meanwhile, Singh reflects once again on her childhood, and on the spaces she occupied – through choice or otherwise – as both Punjabi and Scouse.

Inviting us into her world, Burman’s works at FACT are short, sharp espresso shots of social commentary with a side of fun and generosity for good measure. Tables and chairs offer a break-out space, somewhere to drink it all in – or simply for a bit of a breather while you situate yourself in the cacophony of colour and signs.

The space was also developed to play host to numerous artist residencies; the latest – from GLOR1A and Kerolaina Linkeviča – are currently being installed and open next weekend.

Mike Pinnington

Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s Merseyside Burman Empire reopens @ FACT Liverpool from 10 June

The artist’s work is currently on display in Tate Liverpool’s Democracies collection display

Posted on 02/06/2023 by thedoublenegative