Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Usha Seejarim invited by the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA)

In response to a great honour and with excitement, Usha Seejarim was invited in March to present a talk at The Centre for India Studies in Africa (CISA).  Being of Indian descent, Seejarim spoke on her long standing preoccupation with the everyday and how this has been articulated in her art making.  Her presentation demonstrated the development of this interest through a discussion of her previous works which led up to her recent body of work Venus at Home, currently on exhibit at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG).  Venus at Home explores concepts of domesticity and gender roles through the artworks created from used found, household objects such as brooms, mops and irons. All the ‘material’ on the exhibition was donated by friends and neighbours, further infusing the work with their original owner’s individual histories.

“Related to the search for meaning in the ordinary is a search for identity. It is the relationship of oneself to all this ‘stuff’ that seems to define our existence. It is an analysis of identity further than culture, nationality, gender and heritage. It is a personal investigation of the self and the relationship of the self to its environment; an understanding of oneself beyond the labels of being female and African, beyond being a mother, and an artist”, says Seejarim.

The Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA) was established at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg towards the end of 2007, the first in Africa to focus on India. CISA promotes teaching, research and public activities concerning the Indian sub-continent, its links to Africa and the Indian Ocean, and builds on the multi-faceted networks developed with Indian universities, research institutions and public agencies. The Centre’s public activities are part of its mandate to contribute to the consolidation of economic, political and cultural relations between India and countries in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. “The CISA aims to have a comparison between India and South Africa on historical and current issues and challenges; and have connections between India and South Africa and the rest of Africa. With such goals in mind, the organisation has to employ creative ways to achieve them”.

On 24 April, CISA will be screening a film on issues of gender, domesticity and labour titled Lesser Human by Dir K. Stalin, to accompany Usha Seejarim’s exhibition (untitled) of new and old works.

Event:  Film Screening – Lesser Humans by Dir K. Stalin
Date: Wednesday 24 April 2013
Time: 16h00 - 18h00
Venue: Committee Room, CISA, 36 Jorrissen Street

This is part of an on-going dialogue with the South African artist Usha Seejarim whose work through a series of installations employing brooms looks at issues of gender, domesticity and labour, in her exhibition Venus at Home currently on at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. This film explores the inhuman link between brooms, scavenging and caste in India.

“The film is about manual scavenging in India which has won several awards and helped to put the issue of untouchability in contemporary India on the agenda for numerous international development agencies. It investigates the lives of  ‘manual scavengers,’ the community at the lowest rung of the caste system whose inhuman caste-based occupation is to manually dispose of human excreta”.

Lesser Human, award winning film of:
Excellence Award, Earth Vision Film Festival, Tokyo, 1999
Best Film, New Delhi Video Festival, 1999
Silver Conch, 5th Mumbai International Film Festival, 1998 
Special Mention, Amnesty International Film Festival, Amsterdam, 1998

For further information contact Prof. Dilip Menon, Mellon Chair in Indian Studies

‘Venus at Home’ at the Johannesburg Art Gallery

‘Venus at Home’ is a solo touring museum exhibition by visual artist Usha Seejarim. Venus at Home is currently on exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG), where the exhibition opened on 10 February 2013.

Venus at Home is an intensely personal project in which Seejarim aimed to explore the places she finds herself in and the various roles she undertakes, such as being a home-maker, housewife, mother of two, and an artist.  These distinctly defined roles in Seejarim’s own life come together in this body of work that employs ordinary household objects and found objects as the primary materials to create a series of sculptural works and installations.  Venus at Home explores Seejarim’s interest in and her allurement with the mundane and everyday routines.  Her use of ordinary objects as material for art making inevitably references the ‘readymade’ stimulating questions around notions of exhibition and the definition of ‘art’. 

Seejarim is a young woman of Indian descent whose own experience is as a South African. Yet her artistic voice has been developed and informed by the rich heritage of her South African diasporic Indian environment and culture. She asks relevant questions about identity, nationality, culture and the concept of ‘home’- but rather than seek universal clich├ęs that society so often uses in rhetoric, Seejarim looks to this project for a personal expression and questioning of these notions.

In a community that is largely art-illiterate, conceptual art of this nature is strangely an immediate abnormality. It also provided an access point to the individuals who contributed objects drawn from family members and neighbours. The materials utilised in ‘Venus at Home’ range from used mops, brooms and irons, donated by these individuals. They have been curious about how their donations were transformed, and equally Seejarim was equally curious about their responses to the artworks; particularly since she suspected that they were expecting something “pretty”.

Each object is culturally loaded, gender specific and stripped of its utilitarian function when transformed into these art pieces. She links their transformation to an acute awareness of her identity through location, history and culture. It questions a sense of who she is in relation to notions of home and belonging. This new body of work extends Seejarim’s previous preoccupation with the ‘ordinary’ and explores her position to the various persona and roles she undertakes - those of an Indian/ South African woman, a wife, a mother, home keeper and artist.

Seejarim obtained her Masters Degree in Fine Art at Wits University in 2008 and her B.Tech Degree in Fine Art in 1999 at the University of Johannesburg (previously the Technikon Witwatersrand). She has held five solo exhibitions and participated in numerous group exhibitions nationally and internationally in Paris, Minneapolis, Tokyo, Havana and Belgium.

Venus at Home was launched at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival on 28 June 2012. It was selected by the visual arts jury to be shown on the prestigious Main 2012 Visual Arts Programme.

The exhibition closes on 12 May 2013.  Visit JAG before this thought provoking show comes to an end!