Zainab Reddy

Her Story

One of the earliest known Indian women to receive critical acclaim as an artist in South Africa was Zainab Reddy. (pictured above)

Zainab Madarasawalla, was born in Poona in India and studied art at the University of Mumbai. While studying she met Dennis Reddy, a medical student from South Africa. They married and she came to Natal in 1955, settling in the small rural town of Stanger. She quickly became very active in the art world and barely a year later Reddy participated in the Natal Society for the Arts (NSA) 51st annual contemporary art exhibition. She was one of the three Indian participants and the only Indian woman. Reddy went on to show her works at several exhibitions in Bloemfontein, Kimberly, Stellenbosch and Queenstown. She also participated in one of the earliest known women’s only exhibitions in South Africa held in Payne Brothers Department Store in Durban.

Zainab Reddy, Abstract Forest. Oil Painting.

Besides painting and exhibiting, she also raised two children and worked as a teacher. Initially she taught art at Temple Indian Girls School and later became a lecturer at the University College for Indians. Sometime in early 1970’s, she immigrated to London with her family. Her legacy as a South African artist lies in her three artworks that are held at the Iziko South African National Gallery and one in the Durban Art Gallery.

Her Work

Zainab Reddy, Three Women. Oil Painting. (1965)

Art is “a creative medium through which my joys, sorrows, and frustrations can be expressed” (Reddy, Drum Magazine December 1961)

Reddy’s style of painting is clearly influenced by Modernism especially in her simplification and flattening of forms. Many of her paintings feature images of women or nature as well as rich bright colours.

Zainab Reddy, The Human Race (Maya). Oil Painting. Iziko Art Gallery

Her work The Human Race shows the influence of artists like Gauguin or the German Expressionists. This large work shows people of different races/colour embracing or interacting with one another. The subheading in the title ‘Maya’ in Sanskrit means illusion – sometimes the veil of illusion which blinds most people to reality. Racial issues and apartheid in South Africa presented an alien culture for Reddy coming as she did from another country. The intention behind this painting could be a search for harmony and peace between the races. Reddy’s decision to leave South Africa with her family and settle in London was probably due to the difficulties of living with apartheid.

Click here to view article on Reddy from The New Age newspaper- 1958


Vahed,Desai & Waetjen. Many Lives.

Iziko/Unisa. Scratches on the Face.

3 thoughts on “Zainab Reddy

Add yours

  1. I was so pleased and utterly proud of the content of the article as this is my mother Zainab Reddy. I am her youngest daughter not mentioned in the article as it covered up to her move to the UK. I was born in Harding, Natal and continued in my mother’s footsteps as an artist/printmaker and Art Teacher. If you are interested to do a follow up please get in touch.


  2. I am Zainab Reddy’s second daughter, Amrita. I, too am thrilled to have found this information about my mum. I am trying to gather together all her artwork and would be grateful for any information about this. I know she also did many private commissions so if anyone has any of her work, please contact me.


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