Artist hopes to put ‘fun and political’ ice cream van on Trafalgar Square plinth

An artist hoping to put an ice cream van sculpture on a pedestal in London’s Trafalgar Square has said the work is “very serious” but “also fun and political”.

Liverpool-born Chila Kumari Singh Burman, who recalls regularly cleaning her father’s van when she was about seven or eight, is among the seven artists shortlisted for the Fourth Plinth prize – which has commissioned work outside the National Gallery for 25 years.

Two contenders will be displayed from 2026 and 2028, respectively, following a public vote.

Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth artwork
Scottish artist Ruth Ewan with her work Believe In Discontent (Aaron Chown/PA)

If chosen, the ice cream van would play Bollywood songs around the square and be decorated with images of stars from Indian cinema.

The artist, born in 1957 and working and living in London, also said her father had a tiger on top of the van, which appears in her proposal, and “there’s smoke coming out the back because (the van is) called The Rocket because it’s got rockets”.

Burman said her work tells an “untold story” of the Indian diaspora in Liverpool as she claims her father encouraged other immigrants to come to the UK to go into the ice cream van trade.

Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth artwork
Six of the seven shortlisted candidates (left to right) Gabriel Chaile, Ruth Ewan, Thomas J Price, Veronica Ryan, Chila Kumari Singh Burman and Tschabalala Self (Aaron Chown/PA)

“So it’s a very serious subject and also fun and political and logical and emotional.”

Argentinian Gabriel Chaile, Ruth Ewan from Scotland, London-based Thomas J Price, Montserrat-born Veronica Ryan, American Tschabalala Self and Romanian Andra Ursuta are also up for the honour.

Ewan’s Believe In Discontent takes its title from suffragist Charlotte Despard, who addressed crowds in Trafalgar Square, and is modelled on a mass-produced ornament of a black cat, referencing the way the women’s rights campaigners were portrayed by the media at the time.

The 43-year-old Scottish artist, who said she has two “posh” cats called Gilbert and Gloria and a “very scruffy” dog named Dora, told PA that the work goes beyond Despard and her campaigners and is about “wider forms of dissent” in the square, which has seen protest gatherings.

She added that it is also a symbol of “autonomy and power”, particularly feminine, and has been used in Ancient Egypt as well as Celtic mythology.

Aberdeen-born Ewan shows the cat “not super angry” but ready to strike.

Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth artwork
Veronica Ryan with her work Sweet Potatoes And Yams Are Not the Same (Aaron Chown/PA)

The 67-year-old also said she wants to avoid her work, this time a sprouting sweet potato island called Sweet Potatoes And Yams Are Not the Same, being perceived through a colonial lens.

Ryan, who lives in New York and London, said: “I think the work is multi-faceted, so colonialism is in there but the work is really working in many different contexts.”

She added that the new work draws on ideas of her “own lived experience”, seeing a sprouting potato in her studio, climate change, a forest in the city, and also the history and space in Trafalgar Square.

“We’re in a moment of unprecedented global warming, which also matches the global situation around the city,” she said. “It feels very apocalyptic.”

Other shortlisted works include Chaile’s celebration of the behaviour of the Rufous Hornero bird, a national emblem of Argentina, Self’s bronze work that pays homage to a young, metropolitan woman of colour, Ursuţa’s life-sized person on a horse covered in a shroud and cast in a slime-green resin and Price’s ancient-inspired golden female head.

Mexican artist Teresa Margolles’s work showing the faces of 850 transgender people has already been announced as the next sculpture and will be unveiled by the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group in September.

The Fourth Plinth is funded by the Mayor of London with support from Arts Council England and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The proposals will be available to view online and maquettes of the proposed artworks will be on display at the National Gallery until March 17.

The first work to occupy the Fourth Plinth, Ecce Homo by British artist Mark Wallinger, was unveiled as a contemporary life-size figure of Christ in 1999.

The two latest winning works will be announced next month following the public vote, which closes on March 12.

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