Now in its fourth year, the Tate Britain’s annual Winter Commission gives Londoners a good reason to bundle up, head outdoors, and appreciate the facade of the stately 123-year-old museum in a whole new light… quite literally. While past commissions have transformed the building’s iconic front portico into a “marooned temple,” an otherworldly breeding ground for 32-foot-long leopard slugs, and a kitschy suburban front yard, this year’s light installation, Remembering a Brave New World by British-Punjabi pop artist Chila Kumari Singh Burman, is a riotous extravaganza realized in neon and other media unveiled to coincide with the start of Diwali, the five-day Festival of Lights observed by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains across the world.
As noted by the Tate, Burman’s technicolor installation “draws inspiration from personal, social, and mythological histories, while offering a sense of hope for the future.” Playful, optimistic, and gleefully garish, Remembering a Brave New World couldn’t come at a better time as the coronavirus pandemic threatens to put a damper on celebratory moods in London and beyond during the holiday season. With Remembering a Brave New World, Burman has created a joyful antidote to that prevailing darkness. (Meanwhile, the Tate Britain, the flagship institution of the Tate museum network and among the largest museums in England, has once again closed its galleries to the public due to a new surge of COVID infections after having initially reopened in July.)
“Even when its doors are closed, Tate Britain is able to make a powerful cultural impact on our capital with this bold new work,” said London Mayor Sadiq Kahn in a statement. “Chila’s colorful tribute to her Punjabi and English heritage is a great way to mark Diwali’s celebration of light over darkness, and will be a symbol of hope during these difficult times.”
The psychedelic installation finds the museum’s classical facade completely bedecked with neon sculptures that reference Bollywood, radical feminism, political activism, London-based Burman’s own (ice cream-filled) childhood growing in Liverpool as the child of Indian immigrants, and Hindu mythology—deities such as Lakshmi, Ganesh, and Hanuman are all present and accounted for. The statue of Britannia that sits atop the pediment of the museum has also been fused with the neon likeness of Kali, the Tantric goddess and destroyer of evil. Meanwhile, a tiger can be found making its way down the balustrades while, on the facade, a peacock dazzles with its kaleidoscopic plumage. There’s also the Om symbol, a third eye, column-wrapping string lights, and pro-immigration messaging—“Without Us There Is No Britain”—that celebrates the diverse populace of the U.K.
“Although our museums and galleries remain closed, I’m delighted that we are still able to unveil Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s new commission,” said Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain. “I hope this spectacular transformation of Tate Britain’s facade can act as a beacon of light and hope during dark lockdown days and bring joy to all those who live or work nearby.”
Remembering a Brave New World will remain up and glowing until January 31.