Usha Seejarim


SMAC Gallery

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Exhibition statement

Exhibited as an installation of sculptural works, Seejarim has created a series of grass broom heads installed as a collection of vespiaries or apertures that references homes, nests, or dwellings whilst alluding to the craft and use of hand-made brooms.  

Using the material of grass, Seejarim’s work explores the performative element of labour – the act of sweeping, bundling and carrying. These works also reference the gendered division of labour, the notions of contemporary domesticity and the form and function of work as it occurs across the home and city.

While Seejarim’s work generally explores elements of labour and domesticity through her use of household items, Nesting, installed in the context of a discussion on ecological issues, takes on a secondary meaning.  

Keeping in mind the natural material of the grass broom and its connection with households, Nesting can also be seen as referring to the place of the human home within the ecosystem.

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Usha Seejarim
Grass brooms and wire on steel frame
± 90 x 45 x 55 cm per nest
R 805 000 | Installation
POR for individual nests

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Look up. Through the narrow staircase, all you see are nests that are constructed by precisely cut grass bundles. 

Climbing up the stairs, through this filled passage, you feel simultaneously pulled towards the nests – seemingly multiplying as you continue – but also hindered by the way they invade your space, forcing you around them.

This invasion of space is what brings you face-to-face with the nesting clusters, revealing upon your closer inspection the grass broom heads that they consist of.

While carefully navigating your body through this formation of nests, steering clear of the obstacles they create in your path, you may find yourself contemplating the idea that it is, in fact, your presence hindering the peaceful nests. 

You reach the top of the staircase and are greeted by a high-ceilinged room; you’ve reached the centre chamber of the cave. Here, you are greeted by a monumental collection of grass nests, gathered in clusters and forming patterns that cover the walls all around you. You are free to move around and investigate this lining that covers the room like a fur coat. This rare phenomenon, its physicality and the beauty in its simplicity and multiplicity enfolds you in the warm smell of dried grass. 

You are left suspended between two worlds: Marvelling at finding such a treasure; and being absorbed by a sense of belonging – realising the necessity of the safety that these nests represent as natural homes.

Photographer: Zivanai Matangi (As exhibited at The Centre of the Less Good Idea.)

Usha Seejarim  •  Photo credit: Rajash Seejarim

Artist’s profile

Usha Seejarim is best known for her translation of ordinary and domestic objects to artworks that are sometimes quirky, sometimes serious, sometimes monumental, but never banal. 

Unsurprisingly, her work has a distinctly Dadaist influence through the use of common materials like safety pins, wooden pegs, irons and brooms. Her compositions result from repetitive acts of mark-making, alluring to themes related to time, chance, space and displacement. 

Seejarim was born in Bethal, South Africa, in 1974 and currently lives and works in Johannesburg, where she obtained a B-Tech degree in Fine Art from the University of Johannesburg in 1999, and a master’s degree in Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in 2008. 

In 2018 she was the recipient of the SCAC Marestaing & The Secular Solidarity Association Sculpture Award at the Dakar Biennale in Dakar, Senegal, culminating in a two-month residency at SCAC Marestaing in Montesquieu-Volvestre, France in 2019, where she presented her solo exhibition Un balai, pourquoi pas une balai. Earlier in 2019 she presented a solo exhibition titled Transgressing Power at SMAC Gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Seejarim has completed numerous public commissions including the public portrait for Nelson Mandela’s funeral in Qunu, South Africa in 2013; Figures Representing Articles From The Freedom Charter in 2008 in Soweto, South Africa; and an artwork for the facade of the South African Chancery in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2008.

Seejarim has begun production for a large-scale, site-specific artwork to be presented at Burning Man in Nevada, USA, as well as at 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, London, UK. She will also be presenting a solo exhibition at Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Arts, in Rotterdam, Netherlands this year. Seejarim’s work is currently included in the group exhibition Matereality, at Iziko South African National Gallery, as well as A Show of Solidarity at SMAC Gallery, both in Cape Town, South Africa.

SMAC Gallery was established in 2007 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Since its inception, SMAC has focused on presenting the work of emerging and mid-career South African artists, as well as established international artists. The gallery expanded to its current flagship space in Woodstock, Cape Town, in 2014 and opened a third space in Johannesburg in 2016. In addition to its contemporary programme, the gallery regularly presents large-scale historical exhibitions and projects that offer a critical re-evaluation of South African art history within a global dialogue. The gallery’s art fair participation includes The Armory Show, artmonte-carlo, Artissima, Art Brussels and Miart.

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