22 june – 18 july 2017

Fried Contemporary is pleased to present an exhibition by Usha Seejarim in Room 2, opening Thursday 22 June from 6pm-8pm.

Artist’s statement: Reasons for Descending the Staircase

Usha Seejarim

The female nude in a state of recline is charged with latent power. Our expectation of what a woman will do when she rises is bound by our culture. If the construction of female identity fulfills our traditional expectations then her state of nudity is without function except for decoration. And her function in the everyday is a series of repetitions based on set values.

In my work, I am most interested in the repetitive acts of the everyday, on domestic actions that we take, that become meditative and that maintain our wellbeing.

While the reclining nude is fraught with contradiction in this time of sexual violence, the more honest portrayal of a woman as a household labourer is laden with complexity. We cannot simply say that our domestic lives are a performance of entrapment.

Caught between contemporary and traditional value systems, the artist must excavate the terrain like an archaeologist. Ordinary things become important, while important things sometimes become mere detritus on the garbage dump of history.

In order to give the female figure in art a revamp, I have not had to journey any further away than the terrain of my very own kitchen.

Press Release: Reasons for Descending the Staircase

Usha Seejarim

In her exhibition Reasons for Descending the staircase artist Usha Seejarim explores time and chance by manipulating ordinary objects found around the house.

Seejarim is an accomplished sculptor and printmaker whose ability to find new ways of presenting familiar items, traverses the line between form and formlessness. There is something distinctly Dadaist and humorous in her use of common materials like washing line pegs, toothpicks, safety pins, a household scrubbing brush and an old ironing board.

The dream of domestic bliss, or at least the idea of the functioning home, is re-interpreted as a darkly humorous drama. Art history’s cherished reclining nude is pictured as a woman embodying a mass of potentially lethal pins, or wooden meat skewers within her perfect form.

The compositions, created from repetitive objects, give us a clue about Seejarim’s major preoccupation.

The artist is captivated by the shortfall between the idealised representation of women merely for the male gaze, and the droll reality of so many women’s lives. In everyday domestic work, there is something performative about the way women use the same tools daily, in the same way, throughout their existence.

It is this that gives Seejarim’s work its meaning and its agelessness. The household objects that she uses to make her art have not changed across the generations of women who have used them. It could be that Seejarim is suggesting that working women have been trapped in a kind of time warp. It questions whether this is of their own making

The title of the exhibition asks us to question why Marcel Duchamp’s subject in his key work of Modernism Nude Descending a Staircase, was prowling around naked in the first place. If the figure is indeed female, then we find ourselves wondering whether she was in the throes of escape. Or was she just enjoying a moment of abandonment from the expectation of female composure?

In Seejarim’s new works, as in Duchamp’s painting, we ponder the identity and agency of the individual.

Usha Seejarim is fascinated by the mundane and the ordinary where domestic and found materials make a distinct appearance in her work. She has had more than seven solo exhibitions and is perhaps most known for her public artworks. Seejarim has completed a number of commissions including Figures representing articles from the Freedom Charter (2008) in Kliptown, Soweto; Pin Code (2005) for the cellular network MTN; artwork for the facade of the South African Chancery in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; various light sculptures that formed part of Why Men (2007-2010) in Sandton, Johannesburg and a seeded portrait for Nelson Mandela’s funeral in Qunu.

Seejarim has a deep commitment to social development. With a background in art education at grass roots level and a propensity for scale through public art, Seejarim brings these together to create large scaled participatory and community based public art projects.

Usha Seejarim holds a Masters degree in Fine Art from Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa. She currently resides in Johannesburg and works between two studios, one being at the Bag Factory Artist’s Studios.