Seedtimes: An Omar Badsha Retrospective

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Iziko Museums of South Africa is hosting a retrospective exhibition of works by South African artist and former political activist, Omar Badsha. The exhibition entitled Seedtimes, will be displayed at the Iziko South African National Gallery, and showcases Badsha’s early drawings, artworks and celebrated photographic essays, spanning a period of 50 years.

Seedtimes provides visitors with the opportunity to reflect on the ideas and social concerns of one of the country’s most celebrated social documentary photographers and cultural activists. The retrospective comprises more than 50 works from the artist’s early years, selected from about 200 drawings, woodcuts, mono-prints and sculptures. Badsha, a member of the post-Sharpeville generation of activist artists who, together with his close friend Dumile Feni, wrestled with the challenges that black artists and academics faced in a period of intensive repression during apartheid.Badsha rediscovered many of these works for the exhibition, including a coterie of works by Dumile Feni, in his father’s tiny flat after his death in 2003.

“Omar Badsha’s retrospective exhibition, Seedtimes, at the Iziko South African National Gallery, is a powerful way in which to bring the public to interact with the work of an activist artist who has spent most of his life challenging authoritative views. These spaces at Iziko are potent spaces where the visitor has the opportunity to interact with our artistic narrative in a multiplicity of ways. It is through these public spaces that our difficult and untold narratives are given a voice and serve as a reminder of the difficulties ordinary people endured”, says Rooksana Omar, Chief Executive Officer of Iziko Museums of South Africa.

Badsha’s work attempts to document the social culture of daily life in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, and explores the idea of “seeing and being seen”, producing photographs that capture the intimacy, ritual, spaces and multi-layered narratives of the lives of the marginalized. They are people immersed in their everyday lives; people with agency who are portrayed with empathy.

Professor Dilip Menon from Wits University said in an introduction of Badsha’s early work: “It is a critical reminder that the rewriting of South African art history and the full recognition of black South Africans' contributions remain an unfinished task.”

Although best known as a social documentary photographer, anti-apartheid activist and public historian, Omar Badsha began his career as a visual artist and, in 1965, was one of the first prize recipients in the non-racial Art South Africa Today exhibition.

Between 1965 and 1972, Badsha exhibited extensively and was the recipient of a number of awards.
His artistic career was suspended for a time when he became involved in the revival of the Natal Indian Congress, and the re-emergence of the non-racial trade union movement in the wake of the 1973 Durban workers strike.

During the 1990s, Badsha obtained a passport to travel abroad for the first time since 1965 and was able to complete a number of photographic essays in India, Denmark and Ethiopia. The essays were inspired by his work “A Letter to Farzanah”, first published in 1979 and banned by the apartheid regime. His work as a community activist in the Inanda squatter community outside Durban was published in the book “Imijondolo”. In 2001, Badsha’s “The Imperial Ghetto” was published, which features essays on the Grey street area of Durban.  He also coordinated the photographic project of the Second Carnegie Inquiry into Poverty, and is the author of the seminal book “South Africa: The Cordoned Heart”.

SEEDTIME - Omar Badsha a retrospective