Chila Kumari Burman | Beyond Two Cultures

A lot of the ideas discussed in Lynda Nead’s Chila Kumari Burman: Beyond Two Cultures (1995) resonate with my feelings towards cultural identity and those described by my mum when I interviewed her. As Nead states, the wide range of media that Burman works with ‘carry meanings and values to almost the same extent as the subjects which Burman chooses to depict‘. Similarly to Njideka Akunyili Crosby , Burman’s choice of mixed media is a reflection of the way that influences from multiple different cultures weave together to form a person’s identity. Although I don’t have the facilities to explore all forms of printwork, layering has and will continue to be a key part of my work, because both Burman and Crosby demonstrate how effectively it can visually represent the complexity of having dual heritage. Another reoccurring theme in Burman’s work is fragmentation. Building up a whole image out of parts of others seems like another visual metaphor for the way that a person’s cultural identity is formed from many different influences, including one’s own heritage, as well as the other cultures that surround them (many, if you live in a city as diverse as London!) I could further experiment with some of my existing collages by breaking them up and completely rearranging them…

Something else in Lynda Nead’s monograph on Chila Kumari Burman that really linked to my existing research was a quotation from Stuart Hall:

Cultural identity… is a matter of ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being’. It belongs to the future as much as to the past. It is not something which already exists, transcending place, time, history and culture…” 

I really connect with this idea, especially in light of what my mum said in her interview:

When I said I am who I am, I also feel that, as people we have possibility to evolve and change and develop, so that isn’t a fixed I am, I think it was a feeling at that time that I’d just accepted that I wasn’t fully integrated as a Vietnamese person, that I’m not English, that I don’t really – it’s that funny thing of not belonging anywhere, but also, the feeling that I can belong, or just be like a chameleon and fit in where I am. So it’s yeah, it’s like when I say who I am, it’s like at that time, I felt, it’s just the construct of who I am or who I was, cause I think we continually have the possibility to reconstruct and develop who we are.”

  Both of these ideas reinforce my realisation that the outcome of this project will be a snapshot in time of the beginning of a personal exploration into my cultural identity. As I said before, identity is ever-changing, and my feelings towards my dual heritage are dynamic, therefore I cannot hope to give a complete, ultimate representation of what it is like to be half Vietnamese, half English and living in London. This doesn’t contradict my initial project aims, as I only intended to communicate what I have discovered. I think at this stage, I just want my outcome to show my realisation of just how complex addressing one’s personal cultural identity is!



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