A feature on an artist in the public eye.
Usha Seejarim has become well known for works, in a variety of media, which speak both of everyday experience and eternal truths. Broadly exploring the themes of journeys and daily rituals, she has collected objects, materials and images and assembled these into artworks which might appear totally diverse but which are underscored by a consistent pursuit. She manages to coax these ideas from everyday objects and apparently mundane processes. Seejarim's work is often born of a ritual-like repetition and humility and it is flavoured both by her urban surroundings and her heritage as a person of Indian origin growing up in South Africa. She has worked in photographic and video media and has also made assemblages finding form in both sculptures and images.
Seejarim explains that she takes the journey as metaphor for life. The recurrent image of trucks in her work, she says, speak of carrying, discarding and reloading of baggage and goods. As such these images draw a clear parallel with the way we function in our lives. Her works explore experiences of movement and perceptions of transition. Seejarim is excited also by the metropolis as a metaphor for movement, change, growth and decay. She has touched on her Indian heritage in the use of certain materials like pigment, ash and images such as that of ritual urns. Her work is often made in such a way that is deliberately subject to change. Wax urns, which she at one stage cast daily, yellow soon enough and eventually crack and break apart. Pigment by its very nature is fragile and susceptible. This impermanence speaks also of human existence, and its centrality to many Indian belief systems makes Seejarims interest therein even clearer. The juxtaposition of everyday objects, such as found car ashtrays, with precious or sacred materials such as pigment make her investigation all the more poignant and accessible.
Much of Seejarim's work relates closely to her daily commute from Lenasia to Johannesburg. In an untitled work of 1999, she took photographs of herself on board her bus to work, as reflected in the same shop window every day. Pasted onto a map of the route, this was assembled into a foldout book. In Cash Ticket, Ash Ticket she assembled a huge collection of used bus tickets into designs which make reference both to maps and various decorative traditions. The Opposite of Illustration is a video Seejarim recently made on nighttime journeys between Lenasia and Johannesburg. Car headlights reflected in a rearview mirror dance incessantly as the car shakes and vibrates. This abstracted visual experience is set to the rhythms of Indian and Western percussion. A viewer finds it hard not to choreograph the moving lights with the varied rhythms. At times the lights skip and smear chaotically, at others they trace perfect standing sine waves. Their dance reflects the texture of the road on which the car is travelling, and this together with the apparent, but accidental, choreography lend the piece a mesmerising, synaesthesic quality.
Seejarim is currently finishing a coursework Master's in Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand. She is employed as Assistant Director at VACA (Visual Arts and Crafts Academy). Having just completed her residency (as part of the 'Fresh' programme) at the South African National Gallery, Seejarim is working with the material she gathered there. At the recent Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, on the show 'Images of Self' curated by Clive van den Berg, she showed a long series of small linocuts, made from photographs she has been taking for sometime of trucks seen on the highway.
Seejarim travelled to India where she continued exploring the ideas which inform her work. She finished her B-Tech Fine Art Degree in 1999. It was in this year that she held her first one-person exhibition at the Generator Art Space in Johannesburg.
And before that:
Seejarim began her tertiary studies at the Technikon Witwatersrand in 1995, where she obtained her Diploma in Fine Art in 1997. From that year she was an executive committee member of AEA (Art Educators Association). Seejarim began taking part in group exhibitions in 1996. In 1998, she took part in a programme on Robben Island which resulted in an exhibition with black South Africans and Aboriginal Australians called 'Isintu'. This was held both at the South African National Gallery and in Australia.
Seejarim is a young artist who looks at things with a fresh eye and unique visual sense and of whom we are likely to hear more in the future. A catalogue, which is to be produced as part of the 'Fresh' programme, will be published in the near future and we certainly look forward to seeing it.
Selected curriculum vitae: