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THE INDIAN IN DRUM IN THE ’FIFTIES (article first published : 2006-05-21)

Durban Art Gallery hosts an exhibition of images from watershed 50’s South African magazine – Drum – which is curated by Riason Naidoo. Titled The Indian in Drum, it opens on May 24.

“Have you ever heard Victoria Street referred to as Durban’s little Chicago or Sheriff Khan as South Africa’s Al Capone?,” asks Riason Naidoo. “Does Benny Singh, Pumpy Naidoo and the Goodwill Lounge, the Wall of Death mean anything to you? Well it did to a generation of hundreds of thousands on the continent from Nigeria and Ghana in the west to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in the east. At its peak Drum magazine had a readership of 450,000 copies distributed as far as the Caribbean and the United States with stories emanating from Sophiatown, Victoria Street and District Six.

“Due to the material conditions of the past South Africans remain a people who know little of each other where stereotypes created under apartheid perpetuate to this day,” he continues. “The exhibition was conceived to restore this lived historical memory recalling an unofficial Indian history in South Africa that confronts labels of the homogenous Indian symbolised by the likes of the ‘rich Indian shopkeeper’. It reveals a rich and varied ’fifties culture, beyond the borders of Sophiatown. Papwa Sewgolum, Curries Fountain and the Sam China Cup, Dr Yusuf Dadoo playing political football, Dr Monty Naicker, The Salots and the Crimson League, and stunt rider Amaranee Naidoo signing autographs for adoring fans are represented in all their splendour.”

The rest of the exhibition expands on this rich past with cinema owners in Fordsburg, pin up models, trapeze artists, the Seine fishing community, ballroom dancers at the Durban City Hall and modern Indian women shaking off a more traditional past, evidence of a tangible multifaceted South African Indian history than has thus far been represented.

“Images from child labour on the sugar farms in Natal and the ghettoes of Cato Manor in Durban and Newclare in Johannesburg narrate a different past,” Riason adds. “Further, it acknowledges the talent of photographers some of the most outstanding photographers of the 1950s such as G R Naidoo, Ranjith Kally, Naransamy and Barney Desai who captured these images, some of whom are yet to receive the recognition deserved to them.”

Curator Riason Naidoo was previously the education and media officer at the Durban Art Gallery. He is now based in Johannesburg.

The exhibition runs from May 24 in the Durban Art Gallery which is situated in the City Hall, entrance in Smith Street. There is disabled access into the gallery. More information on 031 311 2264/9.




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