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Sunday, September 27, 2015


(Boy in Doorway, Milton Road, Durban. 1979.)
(Digital print by Omar Badsha on Hahnemuhle paper)

Seedtime: A Retrospective of Omar Badsha spans a period of almost 50 years, starting in the 1960s and includes Omar Badsha’s early prints and drawings as well as his now celebrated photographic essays.

Currently running at the Durban Art Gallery, the exhibition gives art lovers an opportunity to assess the legacy of one of South Africa’s most important documentary photographers and cultural activists, who came of age in the time of Sharpeville and was a leading activist in the subsequent decades of repression and resistance.

The artist and critic Neville Dubow in a 1969 review of the Art South Africa Today exhibition made a special reference to Badsha’s work: “The most interesting of all [these new artists], for my money, is the young Indian artist Omar Badsha. He has figured in a major way in previous shows, but this is his first real breakthrough. His qualities are extremely sensitive and a highly personal vision, essentially linear, but sensuous and capable of carrying the burden of pathos. If his development is in any way consistent with his talent then he is someone to watch.”

Despite critical acclaim for his drawing and sculpture, Badsha chose politics over his artistic career. In the wake of the 1973 Durban workers strike, he became a full time trade union organiser; becoming the first secretary of the Chemical Workers Industrial Union. He was also active in the revival of the Natal Indian Congress.

In the late 1970s, Badsha began taking photographs as part of his work as a trade union activist. This eventually led to him taking up photography, focusing on a number of long-term photographic essays that make up the major part of this exhibition. These essays are a continuation of the themes which he began to explore in his early artistic work as well as his ongoing activities as a political activist.

Badsha’s world of the everyday in the Black ghettos of Durban and his photographs taken in his later travels, capture the intimacy, rituals, spaces and layered narratives of the life of the marginalized.

Ari Sitas, has observed, “Even during the most horrid moments of the Apartheid period, Badsha refused to show people as passive…Their defiance builds slowly, persistently, portrait after portrait”.

In an introduction to the exhibition Under the uMdoni Tree: Prof Dilip Menon reminds us: “…it is a critical reminder that the rewriting of South African art history and the full recognition of black South Africans' contributions remains an unfinished task.”

Seedtime:  A Retrospective of Omar Badsha can be seen in the Foyer, Gallery 3 and Circular galleries of the Durban Art Gallery. The DAG is situated on the second floor of the Durban City Hall, entrance in Anton Lembede (formerly Smith) Street opposite the Playhouse. More information on 031 311 2262/6.