Poems from the “litafrika” exhibition
Curated by Strauhof Zurich, the Litar Foundation, Specimen
Written in English by Christa Baumberger
“litafrika” (2022–2024) is an exhibition trilogy dedicated to the literatures from the African continent. It is organized by Strauhof Zurich and the Litar Foundation and funded by Pro Helvetia. The first exhibition “Poetries of a Continent” staged a selection of exemplary poems in English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, and German translation, from postcolonial classics to the contemporary slam and spoken word scenes. The exhibition also addressed the promotion and reception of these poetries in the German-speaking world and the ambivalence of the Swiss perspective. The exhibition was curated by Christa Baumberger and Rémi Jaccard.
The starting point for “Poetries of a Continent” was the monumental anthology “Afrika im Gedicht” (Zurich 2015). Edited by Al Imfeld (1935–2017), the book covers the period from 1960 to 2014 and contains more than 550 poems from all parts of the African continent. Although the anthology grew from a Eurocentric starting point, it was largely the writers themselves who selected the poems included. Even if “Afrika im Gedicht” contains certain mistakes and problematic aspects from today’s perspective, the book is nevertheless not only a pool of magnificent poems but also a testimony to the “Global North” and “Global South” slowly approaching each other – and as such of a process that has only just begun.
The twelve poems here presented along with new translations curated by Specimen magazine, address central themes of postcolonial literatures: they speak of racism and the devastating rule of Apartheid, but also raise hope for a better future (James Matthews and Francis Bebey), optimism, and disillusionment after independence from European colonialism with its lasting destructive effects (Jorge Viegas and Taban lo Liyong), the traumas of colonial history and the hardship that connect the African continent with the diaspora in the Americas (Niyi Osundare and Ama Ata Aidoo), as well as the position of women in modern society and the female body (Kholoud Elfallah and Tanella Boni) or the oneness with the world and the connection with the ancestors (Birago Diop and Tchicaya U Tam’si). Another recurring topic is the role of poetry in reimagining a nation and the poets’ task in society (Manuel Rui and Moncef Mezghanni).