The Cordoned Heart

South Africa: The Cordoned Heart: A short history of the photography project of the Second Carnegie Inquiry into Poverty and Development in Southern Africa.

South Africa: The Cordoned Heart is considered as one of the seminal exhibitions and books to be curated and produced by Omar Badsha. The exhibition was a product of the photographic project of the Second Carnegie Inquiry into Poverty and Development in Southern Africa and comprised of the work of twenty South African Photographers.

The  Commission was established in April 1982 by Professor Francis Wilson, then head of the Department of Economics at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The celebrated photographer and political activist Omar Badsha was invited to head the project after he had raised the idea that the project should include photographers to work alongside researchers. It was clear the work of the photographers should form part of the final report.

The Cordoned Heart (PDF)
South Africa: The Cordoned Heart: A short history of the photography project of the Second Carnegie Inquiry into Poverty and Development in Southern Africa.
- Read the book online

Badsha, who was also a member of the then recently established photographic collective Afrapix, traveled around the country and invited photographers to submit work or ideas for projects that they would like to undertake.  By April 1984 the project had amassed just over 1000 images. 

On 24th April 1984 over 300 hundred academics, artists and photographers attended a conference at UCT where 300 research papers were presented and the exhibition titled South Africa The Cordoned Heart made up of over 36 photographic essays comprising of 386 images were exhibited in the foyer of UCT's Leslie Building. The exhibition was part of a mini cultural festival of film, music and performances. (Francis essay)

The exhibition was edited down and travelled to a number of centres inside the country and Badsha started work on the book based on the exhibition. Towards the end of 1984 the American photographer Alex Harris and his partner Margret Sator arrived in South Africa and worked with Badsha to prepare and print the exhibition which was to open at the International Center for Photography (ICP) in New York. Margret was a book designer who designed the book for publication.

At the end of 1985 the book was published by Gallery Press and Aperture Press in New York with an introduction by Badsha and a text by Francis Wilson as well as a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Gallery Press was established by the photographer Paul Alberts who was one of the photographers involved in the project.

The exhibition opened simultaneously in New York and in Soweto in 1985. It opened at ICP and comprised of 70 black and white archival prints. Badsha was denied a passport to travel to the opening of the show and his wife Nasima and daughter Farzanah attended. The photographer Paul Weinberg  and one of the founders of Afrapix also attended and spoke at a symposium which was organised as part of the exhibition programme. The exhibition traveled extensively in the USA. A copy of the exhibition was shown in the UK and another copy in Germany. 

Cornell Capa, the director of the International Center for Photography at the time states that,”... the Cordoned Heart… brings us insiders’ truths that must be known as we struggle to understand tumultuous current events in South Africa and the complex and terrible history that impels them. Their photographs speak to the heart with a speed and wisdom beyond words.”

Despite the restrictions of movement, intimidation and the violence, the photographers of South Africa in Cordoned Heart (amongst others) continued to work offering pieces of evidence which would reach the news and eventually the world. This witnessed accounts of the Apartheid State and the collective recordings of the day-to-day life offers not only a memory but proof to those who experienced as well as to those from afar who care about the world’s injustices. The images record the struggle and the photographers are resistance fighters.

The title of the exhibition and book comes from a poem by the great poet Ingrid Jonker “The Child that was shot at Langa.”

The book was edited by Omar Badsha and included the photographic works of: Paul Alberts, Joseph Alphers, Michael Barry, Omar Badsha, Bee Berman, Michael Davies, David Goldblatt, Paul Konings, Lesley Lawson, Rashid Lombard, Chris Ledochowski, Jimi Matthews, Ben Maclennan, Gideon Mendel, Cedric Nunn, Myron Peters, Jeeva Rajgopaul, Wendy Schwegmann and Paul Weinberg. 

Last updated : 03-May-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 20-Apr-2017