Seya Parboosingh

Seya’s simple style reflects a search for truth and purity. This has led her away from subjects in the material world towards a form of abstract painting inspired by thought rather than image. Her interest in painting came from her love of poetry and and her relationship with Jamaican husband Parboosingh. Her quiet temperament and spiritual fortitude must have been the perfect compliment to Karl Parboosingh’s largesse, but coming from a protected merchant class family environment in Allentown, Pensylvania, she could hardly match his bohemianism. They met in New York’s Greenwich Village at a poetry reading. Parboosingh was then  developing his reputation as the enfant terrible of the Jamaican art scene. He had worked in Europe as a modern painter, reportedly studying with artists like Roualt and Leger. In New York, he was something of an exile; a struggling as an artist with no studio. Within the first few days of meeting him she decided she would provide him with a space to paint in her apartment. Instead, he moved in completely.  After a year or two, they decided to marry and live in Jamaica.  

Parboosingh’s decision to live in Jamaica meant that Seya was uprooted from her strong family base and brought to live with Jamaican neighbours and friends who were equally sceptical of the marraige. Nevertheless, Seya was steadfast in her loyalty to Parboosingh, believing that God had brought them together because of their different experiences in life. He had a need that she could fullfil and she needed to learn about the extent to which she could reach out, as well as understand her role as a healer.Seya began painting at Parboosingh’s invitation. Although she had painted during their marriage, it had always been surreptitious and secondary to his work. When Parboosingh asked her to paint and to exhibit her work alongside him in the late 1950s, she saw this as his recognition and respect for what she was doing.

On canvas, their styles were as dissimilar as their temperaments. Parboosingh’s paintings were bold, hard-edged statements about Jamaican society, whereas Seya’s works were placid, gentle glimpses into a quieter world of solitude. Similarly, in real life Parboosingh was in the limelight at the forefront of the Jamaican modernist movement involving other artists like Eugene Hyde, Barrington Watson and the Guyanese visitor Aubrey Williams, while Seya chose to remain in the shadows, content with the routine of her painting and the work she could do to support her husband. This would be her role until Parboosingh died in 1975.

Seya’s painting was profoundly affected by Parboosingh’s death. Until then, her life work had been autobiographical and absorbed with her relationship with him.  Parboosingh’s death taught her to expand the power of love and healing. She says it was then that she learnt fully that everyone touches everyone in spirit. “You can’t paint without touching a person that one meets in spirit,” says Seya. “ By seeing them in the light you can see them and paint them as whole.’”  The healing she had witnessed in Parboosingh was to become her calling after his death. She still lives and works in Jamaica, and her paintings are about keeping that communication and healing alive.

PA-S Extracted and edited from Archer-Straw “ Seya Parboosingh: Painting a Love”  in Caribbean Beat, May-June, Port of Spain, Trinidad 2000