The university’s departments of Sociology and Visual Arts held a book launch on 9 May for Omar Badsha’s latest collection of photographs. The book is titled Seedtimes and features a collection of the photographer’s work spanning four decades. They capture Omar’s travels to Denmark and Ethiopia as well as the experiences of Apartheid South Africa. Omar said the purpose of his work was to find new ways of representing blackness as well as to remind viewers of their shared humanity.
The struggle icon was first inspired to take photographs while earning a living as a chemical worker. Omar was part of a workers trade union and wanted to document the poor working conditions as evidence. He began to take a more critical interest in his encounters and discussions with people, using photography as a means of expressing the black identity as well as inviting black communities to be critical of their own representation in white South Africa.
The works present images of black humanity, such as the hardships of overcrowded classrooms, a happy couple on their wedding day, men and women protesting and a mother with her new born baby. Curator and art historian, Tembinkosi Goniwe, panelled the event and highlighted the important role of Omar in the construction of our history. He said that these images become a way of creating an alternative narrative, one in which a people’s representation is self-determined. He reminded the audience not to marginalise Omar as only a visual producer but rather to recognise him as “a political activist in the sphere of culture.”
The book’s title was inspired by South African poet, Mafika Gwala, who wrote a resistance poem with the same title. Gwala’s poem was directed at the apartheid state but his words still resonate with the persistence of political resistance in today’s society. Omar wanted his work to echo this same timeless quality. The photographer said, “Seedtimes means the growth of our time.” The work reminds the reader to take a critical look at society as well as the history of what it means to be a South African.