Ebrahim Badsha was born on 13 March 1931, in Durban, Natal (now KwaZulu Natal). Badsha was one of the pioneer Black artists in Natal. He grew up in a large Gujarati Muslim home. His father, Ismail Essop Badsha, came to the colony of Natal with his elder sister and her husband as their son in the late 1890s. His mother immigrated to Natal with her two sons in 1917 and settled in Durban.

Ismail Essop Badsha was a prominent member of the Durban Muslim community. He established a small outfitting shop, was an active member of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), and close confident of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's friend advocate, R K Khan.

Ebrahim Badsha attended the Carlisle Street Government Indian School where his teachers recognized and encouraged his talent for drawing. In 1938, he won an award for a drawing his school submitted to an art competition run by the Natal Indian Teachers Society.

After completing grade 5, he worked as a salesperson in a local outfitting store. He continued his interest in art and started teaching himself painting, sign writing, and graphic design. His early work in painting was largely influenced by conventional European landscape and portraitist traditions. 

In the early 1940s he worked for a short time in Johannesburg at the Schlesinger Organisation as an artist/sign writer under a Mr Scott “Scotty” also one of the early Black artists.

He was a keen sportsman and played tennis and was a member of the United Cricket Club. In 1950 Badsha was one of the founding members of Bantu, Indian, and Coloured Art (BICA), one of the first Black artist groups established by White liberals in Natal. Other members included Selby Mvusi, Lingum Chetty and Marimutu Solai, who became the first Indian art inspector of schools.

BICA met at the Bantu Young Mens Christian Association’s Hall in Beatrice Street, Durban. Nils Solberg ran the initial classes. Other founding members of the association were Nils Solberg, Scott MacNab, and Ms Sylvia Lawrence.

In 1953 Badsha, was the first black artist to be invited to exhibit at the annual Natal Society of Arts (NSA) members’ exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery. Nils Solberg, the son of a Swedish Missionary family, who was a leading artist, influenced Badsha’s work. In 1954, Solberg was elected president of the Whites Only Natal Society of Artists.

In the early sixties Badsha’s work underwent a dramatic change, when he experimented with wood engravings and silkscreen that incorporated Arabic calligraphy and African design motifs. Badsha, like many of the early black artists of his generation, found it impossible to work professionally as an artist and earned a living mainly as a sign writer.

He was a major influence on his son Omar Badsha the political activist, documentary photographer and artist.

Ebrahim Badsha passed away on 27 September 2003.

Omar Badsha, Pretoria.

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