A joyous façade on the Tate Gallery

HERE IS SOMETHING WORTH seeing if you can. It is on display at the Tate Britain until the 31st of January 2021 and you need not enter the gallery building to see it. Originally created to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light, in late 2020, this is a wonderfully joyous celebration of both Indian and British culture in light and colour.

The artist Chila Kumari Singh Burman was born in Bootle, near Liverpool, daughter of Punjabi Hindu parents. She graduated at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1982 after having also studied at Southport College of Art and Leeds Polytechnic.

Burman has temporarily transformed the main (Thames facing) entrance of the Tate Britain, its staircase and pillared portico into a pleasing and often humorous riot of colour that makes many references to her upbringing and India’s culture and mythology. To do this, she has made use of coloured lights, neon tubing lights, coloured photographs, and decorative printed coloured paper. The Tate’s website (https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/chila-kumari-singh-burman) describes Burman’s installation, “Remembering a Brave New World” as follows:

“This magnificent installation, remembering a brave new world, combines Hindu mythology, Bollywood imagery, colonial history and personal memories. Inspired by the artist’s childhood visits to the Blackpool illuminations and her family’s ice-cream van, Burman covers the façade of Tate Britain with vinyl, bling and lights. She changes the figure of Britannia, a symbol of British imperialism, into Kali, the Hindu goddess of liberation and power. The many illuminated deities, shapes and words are joined by Lakshmibai, the Rani (queen) of Jhansi. Lakshmibai was a fierce female warrior in India’s resistance to British colonial rule in the 19th century.”

This description provides a fair summary of what is to be seen. It does not mention the entertainingly decorated autorickshaw (three-wheeler) that was on display in the vestibule of the gallery when we visited. The doorways are also worth examining because they are lined with images taken from the Amar Chitra Katha’s comic books that are published in India to teach Indian children about both Hindu mythology and Indian history. Our daughter, whose background, is both Indian and European, used to enjoy reading these.  Despite what the Tate has written, the artwork does not come across as polemical or anti-British, at least not to me. On the contrary, the artist appears to be enjoying her joint cultural heritage: both British and Indian. My wife said of the installation:

“If this is multi-culturalism, let’s have more and more of it!”

However, words are quite insufficient to describe the visual impact of this wonderful spectacle. It has to be seen to be believed and enjoyed. We saw it during daylight when it can be enjoyed in fine detail, but I imagine that seeing it after dark would also be quite magical.

Two shepherds

IT IS LESS THAN THREE and a half miles as the crow flies between Shepherds Bush Market in the west and Shepherds Market (in Mayfair) due east of it, but there is a world of difference between the two places.

Let us get one thing straight immediately, and that is the markets’ names and their relation to sheep. Shepherds Bush Market is named in connection with actual sheep. The place, Shepherds Bush, might either refer to a family name or to shepherding. A ‘shepherd’s bush’ is a bush from which a shepherd can shelter from the elements to watch his (or in the case of Little Bo Peep, her) flock. The place name might also refer to a place where shepherds rest their sheep on their way to Smithfield Market. However, today you are unlikely to spot a sheep anywhere in the area except in a butcher’s shop. In contrast Shepherds Market in Mayfair is named after an important London architect Mr Edward Shepherd (died 1747), who owned or developed some of the land on which fashionable Mayfair was built in the early 18th century.

According to one website (https://alondoninheritance.com/londonpubs/shepherd-market-a-village-in-piccadilly/), in its early days:

“The core of the market consisting of butchers’ shops and the upper floors containing a theatre.”

There is a large building in the heart of Shepherds Market that bears the market’s name. It looks to me as if this was  the building referred to in this quote.

Shepherds Market is a quaint village-like enclave surrounded by fashionable Mayfair, an extremely prosperous part of London. Although it bears the name ‘Market’, it is no longer a bustling market with stalls such as you would find in, say, Borough Market, Petticoat Lane, Ridley Road (Dalston), Portobello Road, and relevant to this essay, Shepherds Bush. The Mayfair enclave is a series of quiet streets with small boutiques, cafés, picturesque old pubs, hairdressers, a village-style newsagent-cum-postoffice, and upmarket eateries. This is not a place you should visit if you are planning to buy good value groceries or cheap clothing. It is now a part of London for meeting people and relaxing.

One restaurant, which closed in 1998, was a landmark in Shepherds Market. This was ‘Tiddy Dol’s’, which was named after a famous Georgian street-seller of gingerbread snacks (see: http://scrumpdillyicious.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/mayfair-memories-tiddy-dols-welsh.html?m=0). I remember entering this rather gloomy eatery with my Italian brother-in-law, who wanted to try ‘real’ English food. We ordered him Welsh Rarebit, for which the restaurant was justifiably renowned. He looked at the dish in front of him, prodded its cheesy topping, and then made an involuntary expression that conveyed ‘disgust’ to me.

In the past (and maybe still today), Shepherds Market was a place where prostitution was not uncommon. Tiddy Dols was in the ‘epicentre’ of the prostitution ‘business’. So much so that:

“…in the late Seventies, commissionaires in the grand hotels of Park Lane would tell families of tourists not to go to Tiddy Dolls, such was the gauntlet of girls they would have to run.” (see: “The Independent” newspaper, 14th March 1996)

Shepherds Bush Market (‘Bush’ for short) is many things that Shepherds Market is not. The Bush market runs along a lane next to the railway arches above which trains run between Shepherds Bush Market and Goldhawk Road stations. Although it is an enjoyable place to visit. the Bush market is not at all ‘chic’ or ‘luxurious’; it is the opposite. However, it is a real street market with a few full-size shops that are housed in the arches under the railway tracks. The clientele of the market looks far less prosperous than the people you can see in Shepherd Market, and they come from a wealth of diverse ethnic backgrounds. On a recent visit, many of the vendors were Sikh men.

The Bush market offers a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, spices, pulses, plenty of other food products from all over the world, and many non-food items. If you are looking for, clothes, hats, shawls, shoes, suitcases, cooking utensils, ‘phone accessories, artificial flowers, tailoring, household goods, and you name it, you should head for the Bush market. Normally, this street market is crowded and busy. However, when we went there in early December 2020, there were few other shoppers to be seen. One stall holder explained that the decline in footfall was due the covid19 pandemic. This did not surprise us as much as what he said next. And that was the market had suffered because of lack of tourists due to the pandemic’s effects on tourism. According to him, the Bush market depends heavily on foreign visitors. That astonished me because I had always assumed that it was a market that catered mainly to locals.

Like Shepherds Market, the Market in Shepherds Bush contains a variety of eating places and nearby Shepherds Bush Green is surrounded by reasonably priced eateries.

Although I have not done it yet, a walk from Shepherds Market to Shepherds Bush Market would be most fascinating. It would be a stroll through the history of London’s westward spread that occurred between the early 18th century and the beginning of the 20th.

Both of the markets I have described are well-worth exploring. If I had to choose one over the other, that would be most difficult for me. I love the bustle and variety of markets such as that at shepherds Bush. However, that is not the only place you can enjoy such an atmosphere in London. Shepherds Market in Mayfair has a uniqueness that I have not found in other parts of London. It is a serene yet vibrant oasis in one of the busier parts of the city. So, let me drink a cortado or macchiato at Shepherds Market, and let me buy my halal lamb at Shepherds Bush Market. I will enjoy both experiences equally.