INTERVIEW WITH OMAR BADSHA

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Author: Kendrick Foster
Date: Spring 2019
From: Harvard International Review(Vol. 40, Issue 2)
Publisher: Harvard International Relations Council, Inc.
Document Type: Interview
Length: 2,130 words
Lexile Measure: 1100L

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Omar Badsha, who was recently awarded the National Order of Ikhamanga (silver) for his contributions to South African culture, is an award-winning photographer and artist who documented the struggle against apartheid while serving in leadership positions across the trade union movement. Badsha also founded South African History Online, a website to document South African history. The HIR recently spoke with Badsha about his artistic career; the transcript that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Kendrick Foster.

What first motivated you to use art as a tool for social protest?

I grew up in a home where my father was an artist; he worked as a sign writer and painted. I grew up in a home with art around me, but I only really began when I had left high school in 1965. I began to find a way of expressing my-self, so I turned to drawing and woodcuts. My father gave me a set of wood-carving tools, and I started working on woodcuts and linocuts, but woodcuts mainly; I had just finished high school.

I was also politically active from 1960, when I entered high school. It was just after the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, which angered many of us and had a huge impact on our lives, so 1 became very political. I'm self-taught, because there were very few facilities for blacks in South Africa to train as artists--there were very few studios or workshops. So I taught myself. In the process, I began to look at ways of representing what was happening around me, so that's how I started. One of the earliest works I did was a small woodcut, which 1 entered for a national art competition, which was one of the first non-racial and mixed art exhibitions, and it won a prize! It gave me a huge boost to continue working and to continue to learn to draw. That's what happened. What motivated me? I grew up in a home and in an environment in which violence and discrimination was all around. And 1 became political at a very young age, so when I found a need to express myself, I turned to art.

What challenges did you face as a protest artist under apartheid?

Firstly, the challenge I faced, like the majority of black artists in South Africa, was the fact there were not enough facilities for us. There were no proper colleges. You were not allowed to go to the white college, which, at that stage, was the only one that had a fine arts course. I had finished high school and didn't go to a university, so I had to teach myself. Secondly, I was political so I refused to exhibit in segregated shows. There were very few opportunities, and there were very few of us who were working as artists and exhibiting. When I first started exhibiting in 1966, I was one of I think 50 black artists in the entire history of fine arts in South Africa...

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