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SEEING AND BEING SEEN: POLITICS, ART AND THE EVERYDAY IN OMAR BADSHA'S DURBAN PHOTOGRAPHY, 1960s–1980s

  • Patricia Hayes
Abstract

There is an assumption that the photographic iconography of the South African struggle against apartheid is universally known and familiar. It is however dominated by certain tropes and categories that obscure the many complexities and nuances of its origins, its practitioners and its effects. This article focuses on one photographer, Omar Badsha, and explores his own narrations about city and family life in the Indian Ocean port city of Durban, and the artistic and political trajectories in which he was embedded that gave rise to his own photographic work and the organization of other photographers into the collective known as Afrapix. Badsha grew up in ‘the imperial ghetto’ of Grey Street in Durban within a rich legacy of radical political and cultural debate, becoming an artist and later a trade union organizer. It is the imperatives of the latter work that pushed him into photography as a medium of literacy. Many of his own photographs started as a personal visual diary when he re-explored the spaces of his childhood as an adult, and in the process became increasingly sensitized to the parallels between political and religious ritual. In particular he was fascinated by the dynamics between the leaders and the led, and the techniques and theatricalities of the different genres of mobilization. His work and the multiple forces and influences at play suggest that there were (and are) plural and competing aesthetic regimes during (and after) apartheid that are little recognized, mostly due to a deeply entrenched (and ongoing) separation between the domains of aesthetics and politics in South Africa and elsewhere outside the African continent.

Il existe une présomption selon laquelle tout le monde connaît l'iconographie photographique de la lutte contre l'apartheid en Afrique du Sud. Elle est cependant dominée par des tropes et des catégories qui masquent les nombreuses complexités et nuances de ses origines, de ses praticiens et de ses effets. L'article s'intéresse au photographe Omar Badsha, dont il examine les narrations sur la ville et la vie de famille dans la ville portuaire de Durban, dans l'Océan Indien, et les trajectoires artistiques et politiques dans lesquelles il s'inscrit et qui ont inspiré son œuvre photographique et la formation d'un collectif de photographes appelé Afrapix. Badsha a grandi dans le « ghetto impérial » de Grey Street à Durban, héritier d'une riche tradition du débat politique radical et culturel, avant de devenir artiste puis syndicaliste. Ce sont les impératifs de cette activité syndicaliste qui l'ont amené à la photographie en tant que support de culture. Beaucoup de ses photographies étaient au départ un journal visuel personnel, lorsque l'adulte qu'il était revisitait les espaces de son enfance et, ce faisant, devenait de plus en plus sensible aux parallèles entre rituel politique et rituel religieux. Il était notamment fasciné par la dynamique entre dirigeants et dirigés, et par les techniques et théâtralités des différents genres de mobilisation. Son œuvre et les multiples forces et influences en jeu suggèrent qu'il existait (et qu'il existe toujours) pendant (et après) l'apartheid des régimes esthétiques pluriels et en concurrence peu reconnus, essentiellement en raison d'une séparation profondément ancrée (et persistante) entre les domaines de l'esthétique et de la politique en Afrique du Sud et hors du continent africain.

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References
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Interview 1 with Omar Badsha, by Patricia Hayes and Farzanah Badsha, Cape Town, 18 June 2003.

Interview 2 with Omar Badsha, by Patricia Hayes and Farzanah Badsha, Cape Town, 6 January 2004.

Interview 3 with Omar Badsha, by Patricia Hayes, Pretoria, 25 November 2005.

Interview with David Goldblatt, by Patricia Hayes and Farzanah Badsha, Cape Town, 28 August 2002.

Interview with Richard Pakleppa, former trade union activist, London, 16 June 2006.

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Africa
  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
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