Remembering Seya Parboosingh (1925-2010)

Seya Parboosingh - Sharing at the Table (1999), Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection, NGJ

The NGJ deeply regrets the passing of Seya Parboosingh on Friday, August 13. This is our tribute to Seya.

The painter and poet Seya Parboosingh, née Samila Joseph, was born in 1925, in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She was of Lebanese descent. She attended the University of Iowa, where she concentrated on creative writing. Seya met and married Jamaican artist Karl Parboosingh in New York in 1957 and began to paint under his direction. The couple settled in Jamaica in 1958 and that year they had their first joint exhibition at the Kingston and St. Andrew Parish Library. Seya spent most of her active life in Jamaica and was a well-recognized member of the Jamaican artistic community. She received the Institute of Jamaica’s Bronze Musgrave Medal for art in 1988.

Seya Parboosingh - Vestibule (c1960), Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection, NGJ

Seya’s work was visibly influenced by Karl Parboosingh’s style but she quickly found her own artistic voice, producing quiet, sensitively painted, autobiographic paintings that resonated with her poetic work and contrasted with her husband’s bold, declamatory expressionism. This is well illustrated by the following excerpt from one of her poems, dated circa 1975:

for the little girl's 
grown up pearls
the secret eye
of night sleeps
in a twinkling toychest
tonight the sky is
a tall horseman
saving the princess

-- Seya, c1975

The close artistic partnership between Seya and Karl Parboosingh continued until the time of his death in 1975 and arguably endured beyond that time.  Some of her most poignant works were visual expressions of her grief at his passing, such as the haunting In Prayer (1975) in which the marital bed became a coffin-like presence in the composition. As Petrine Archer-Straw wrote in 2000: “Ask her about her work and life, and inevitably she tells you about Karl, whom she simply calls Parboosingh. Their lives are still inextricably entwined, even though he died more than 25 years ago. Since then, Seya’s story has taken on epic proportions, reflecting her deepening understanding of how love transformed their lives and the lives of others. What started as a tale of two people now reflects her love for her husband, Jamaica and humanity.”

Seya Parboosingh - Epergene with Fruit (1999), Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection, NGJ

Seya was an enthusiastic and outspoken participant in the local artistic community and will always be remembered by the NGJ staff as a vocal presence at NGJ panel discussions and forums. Her artistic work had a significant following among collectors of Jamaican art and is well represented in Jamaican art collections, including those of the Bank of Jamaica and the National Gallery of Jamaica.

The Board and staff of the NGJ extend their sincere condolences to Seya’s family and friends.

A celebration of Seya’s life will be held at the UWI Chapel on Friday, August 20 at 3 pm.

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3 thoughts on “Remembering Seya Parboosingh (1925-2010)

  1. Pingback: Global Voices in English » Jamaica: R.I.P. Seya

  2. Oh, what a wonderful person and Artist Seya was; I’ll always admire and take pleasure in all those absolutely beautiful child-like works and remember her quiet though profound humanity.

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