INTERVIEW: Sekai Machache

Fòcas Programme Director Katherine Parhar interviews Fòcas Shortlist Artist Sekai Machache, a photographer based in Dundee about her project Musoro. 

© Sekai Machache

F: You say about your project, ‘To lose a black father / In this day and age / Is to lose / a provider / a consolidator / a municipality. Musoro means head covering, doesn’t it? How does the title relate to the grief you’re working through with this project?

S: Musoro

noun , class(3) dialects: Standard Shona

  1. The upper part or division of the human body, consisting of the more or less rounded skull and its integuments and contents, the organs of sight, hearing, taste, etc., with the mouth and its parts, and joined to the trunk by the neck; in an extended sense, the corresponding part of any animal’s body; the front, fore, or top part or oral end of an animal, in any way distinguished from the rest of the body, as by being borne upon a neck; the end opposite the tail.
  2. Mental faculty regarded as sealed in the head; intelligence; luider.standing; will or resolution; inclination: mind.
  3. A conspicuous external covering or prominence on the head.

English translation:

M: In colloquial terms, the word “Musoro” means “Head”, however there appear to be more abstract translations, which held my interest and fit well with the imagery created in the project. When speaking Shona words often take on completely different meanings based on tone and delivery. The notion of ‘a conspicuous external covering or prominence on the head’ seemed to directly correlate with the aesthetic concerns of the work in the series. Using my long braided hair to obscure my body and face, shrouding the body in a dark covering – I feel that this relates to the ways in which grief creates a heavy dense layer that overwhelms everything. Physically and mentally engulfing the subject of the piece. Myself.

F: The project is a visceral response to grief, in some ways; but the portraits are staged, so they’re also quite still. It’s an interesting combination of pain, figuratively expressed, and composure. Was this the effect you wanted?

S: I think the only way to answer this is to be quite open and honest about my experience of grief. 

When my father passed away the grief was very intense, however I had to obfuscate my pain in order to function. I was entirely overwhelmed, and there was a lot of upheaval. I organized the funeral with very little help and I was the only one who took care of him in his final weeks. I was exhausted, but I had to keep my composure. 

In the aftermath, I was depleted of all energy, and was paralyzed by a long depression that left me unable to move for months. I felt that rigid, unmoving boulder on my chest. It became heavier as time went on.

“Musoro” was created in the months before the depression truly sunk in. The grief is not directly expressed, but rather symbolically conveyed through the rigid poses. These staged compositions convey the feeling of being momentarily frozen in time while the vibrantly coloured braid weaves its way around and through the body, hovering a few inches from the ground with an almost dream like ethereal quality. 

© Sekai Machache

F: You’re based in Dundee, and your work examines your African heritage and its relationship to your present place in the west; how do you feel that relationship evolves with – or in – your practice?

M: Having spent my whole life in Scotland with minimal experience of living elsewhere I grew up initially very much convinced that I was just another ordinary Scottish person and that my identity was just as simple as that. However years of being made aware that I am different because I am black and have African heritage has changed that view of myself. Like the protagonist in Nervous Conditions, I see myself unable to find belonging in either Scotland or Zimbabwe and yet I am a product of both places and cultures. This has had significant impact on my artistic practice.

During my time at art school I struggled with the perception of my work from tutors, viewers and peers alike. I felt that the subject matter in the work was being superseded by the way people interpreted my use of the black figure. This is because black people are often seen as only one of a larger homogenous group, their identity lost/hidden/shrouded by the stereotypical ideas that society imposes on these perceived identities.

Meanwhile representations of black bodies in contemporary art remain limited in many ways. Whereas white bodies continue to embody and imbue universal ideas and human experiences, black bodies continue to be marginalised and othere’d, often relegated to niche identity politics. 

This is something that I’ve been tackling for many years in my practice and something I intend to continue to work through. I would like to think that my work has evolved from a practice that was concerned with an abstract notion of the self into one that is more rooted in a deeper interrogation of the self and how it or we relate to the world around us.  In this way I see my work shifting towards the notion of the collective. Re-framing the concept of self in relation to the collective while attempting to resist homogeneity.

Sekai is based in Dundee, Scotland. Her work is a deep interrogation of the notion of self. Having been born in Zimbabwe and raised in Scotland, she has a particular interest in W.E.B Dubois’ notion of Double Consciousness which expresses the psychological challenge of having African heritage whilst living in the West.