Vibrant and ‘Fun’ ice-cream van is a serious contender for the Trafalgar Square plinth


Aptly titled ‘The Smile You Send Returns To You’, British Indian artist Chila Kumari Burman’s installation is in race for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth

Our Bureau


British-Indian artist Chila Kumari Burman installation ‘The Smile You Send Returns To You’ is among the seven proposals shortlisted for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth. The ice cream van artwork is inspired by her father’s migration from India to the UK.

The installation was unveiled by Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London as the new set of choices for the plinth at the esteemed landmark. The fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in central London is the only plinth in the famous square to not have a permanent statue on it. The other three plinths at each corner have statues of King George IV, General Sir Charles James Napier, and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock. The plinth regularly features artworks that reflect and celebrate the multicultural essence of London.

At the center of Burman’s sculpture is her father’s ice-cream van named The Rocket, a recurring motif in the award-winning artist’s work as a metaphor for a childhood memory and a symbol of optimism.

“It tells of the artist’s own lived experience, and her father’s voyage on the HMS battery from India to the UK,” reads the description. “It is a story of resourcefulness and entrepreneurship, amid the struggle of adapting to a new life elsewhere. A journey that took him from Calcutta’s Dunlop factory, where his magic tricks earnt his transfer overseas, to Liverpool’s Dunlop factory,” it said.

Liverpool-born and Based in London Burman calls herself a “Punjabi Liverpudlian” since she was born in Liverpool.  Burman is celebrated for her radical feminist practice, which examines representation, gender and cultural identity.

Other than Burman, the shortlisted artists include Gabriel Chaile, Ruth Ewan, Thomas J Price, Veronica Ryan, Tschabalala Self and Andra Ursuta who have all created maquettes of their proposed artworks, on display at the National Gallery until March 17.

“It is important that we find ways to encourage the public to look at and become interested in art, whether it is the great pictures in our museums or new art in public spaces, and I would encourage the public to have their say on these exciting proposals,” said Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery.

The proposals will also be available to view online and on the free Bloomberg Connects app. The two winning works will be announced next month and installed on the Fourth Plinth in 2026 and 2028 respectively. Meanwhile, Teresa Margolles’ ‘Improntas’ has been announced as the next Fourth Plinth sculpture, set to debut in September 2024. The work is a tribute to a transgender woman called Karla who was murdered in Mexico in 2016 and stands for the rights of trans communities worldwide.

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