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British-Indian Artist Chila Kumari Burman’s Sculpture Shortlisted for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth

A vibrant and culturally resonant installation by British-Indian artist Chila Kumari Burman has captured attention as it vies for a spot on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth. Inspired by her father’s migration from India to the UK, Burman’s artwork titled ‘The Smile You Send Returns To You’ stands out among the seven proposals shortlisted for public vote by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

A Tribute to Migration and Optimism

At the heart of Burman’s piece lies her father’s ice cream van, ‘The Rocket,’ a recurring motif in her work spanning four decades. This van is a metaphor for childhood memories intertwined with the economic, political, and social history of migration from India to Britain. It symbolises optimism amid the challenges of adapting to a new life, reflecting her father’s journey from India to the UK aboard the HMS Battory and his subsequent experiences in Liverpool.

Artist’s Lived Experience

Chila Kumari Burman, a self-described ‘Punjabi Liverpudlian,’ channels her personal experiences and family history into her multidisciplinary art practice. Working across mediums such as printmaking, drawing, painting, installation, and film, she weaves together narratives that explore identity, migration, and cultural hybridity.

Celebrating Diversity in London

The Fourth Plinth, located in Trafalgar Square, has become synonymous with showcasing world-class contemporary art that celebrates London’s multicultural fabric. The shortlisted proposals, including Burman’s, are on display at the National Gallery until March 17, inviting the public to engage with and vote for their favorite artworks.

Future Installations and Cultural Significance

Two winning works from the shortlist will be announced next month and installed on the Fourth Plinth in 2026 and 2028, continuing the tradition of bringing thought-provoking contemporary art to the heart of London. The selection process underscores the city’s commitment to fostering creativity, dialogue, and inclusivity in the public sphere.

Tribute to Trans Rights

In the meantime, Teresa Margolles’ ‘Improntas’ has been announced as the next Fourth Plinth sculpture, scheduled to debut in September 2024. This poignant work pays tribute to transgender rights and commemorates Karla, a transgender woman murdered in Mexico in 2016, highlighting the ongoing struggle for equality and acceptance worldwide.


Chila Kumari Burman’s installation encapsulates the rich mosaic of migration histories that define modern-day London. It presents a riveting blend of mysticism, imagination, history, and culture. Burman’s artwork serves as a tribute to the continuing power of art to generate empathy, provoke dialogue, and celebrate diversity, even as the city waits for the presentation of its next Fourth Plinth sculptures.

Feature Image: Chila Kumari Burman’s father’s ice cream van ‘The Rocket’ is at the centre of her installation ‘The Smile You Send Returns To You’. (Photo: London Government)

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