Chudamani Clowes b. 1966


Chudamani Clowes’s work is inspired by a childhood memory of playing with an elephant skull. She managed to link this memory with the Empire shows that took place last century when elephant troops were brought over from Ceylon, all the way to London to perform in front of an audience. She is interested in post-colonial discourse, in particular addressing the use of the ethnographic archive at the British Museum in contemporary art today. Clowes uses relief printing, etching and ceramics to create images and sculptures of fictional characters who are inspired by Victorian paintings. Chudamani Clowes is inspired by Victorian paintings like ‘The Last of England’ by Ford Maddox Brown. She has remodeled the one hundred characters from the painting by William Frith ‘The Day at the Races’. She is interested in how the non-European has been shown in museums. She is reinterpreting the artefacts from her own family’s colonial past, and using the medium of print and ceramics to create her own narrative of what may have happened in the past. As a post-colonial subject, she is reclaiming objects from her family history to carry out a translation. She is creating her own historical past dealing with issues of immigration and race encountered today.


London-based Sri Lankan-born artist Chudamani Clowes holds a MFA from the Royal Academy of Art London and a BA (hons) in Fine Art from the Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design (2008) and a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education from the University of London. 


Through a wide range of media, encompassing ceramic, print, painting, performance and sculpture, White City explores Clowes’s own cultural and social history in relation to those around her. Clowes is fundamentally interested in human stories; whereby she invents her own characters to retell a historical past and explore issues of immigration, race and diaspora today. The central concern of the exhibition is how these issues have consequences for us all.


The artist will invites the viewers to interact with her, wear her works and join in performances, which will be set against a backdrop of paintings, sculptures, installations and sound. With wide ranging references, from historical spectacles to the current Mediterranean migration crisis, Clowes’s practice is energetic, eclectic and emotionally charged. During the course of her six-month residency, Clowes spent time investigating the local area, in particular White City where the Franco- British Exhibition was held in 1908.


Inspired by archived accounts of the exhibition, which recall elephant troops brought over from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), combined with ongoing research into the ethnographic archive at the British Museum, Clowes represents cultural and human displacement across a range of media. In two series, Jellyheads and Tentacle Paintings, Clowes creates an imaginary narrative where humans are represented by jellyfish, symbolising historical and contemporary Mediterranean migration.


Clowes’s use of materials, both traditional and more unusual is a strong component of her work. Her paintings on banana paper, using aromatic banana oil, depict black footballers that play for Queens Park Rangers. These works form a commentary on the racist abuse faced by players at home and in Europe. She also uses survival blankets as canvases, referencing the difficult journeys of displaced migrants arriving on the shores of Europe.