Despite Africa's rich poetic heritage, the continent's poets don't receive the attention and support they deserve. The Badilisha Poetry X-Change is working to change this. Gabriella Mulligan explains how.
The Badilisha Poetry X-Change was launched in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2008. The project initially started as a Cape Town-based festival, featuring poets from across the African continent and from diaspora communities. However, the project soon outgrew the limited scope of physical meetings held in South Africa.
"Being based in Cape Town meant we were not fulfilling our vision of being a Pan-African project, we were not reaching a large, diverse group of Africans," explains Linda Kaoma, project manager at Badilisha.
Soon, the Badilisha online portal was launched, creating a web-based showcase of African poetry accessible to anyone, whether based within Africa or beyond.
"Our transition to existing mainly online meant breaking down some of the geographical restrictions, and we are therefore able to reach a much wider audience," Kaoma said.
The Badilisha Poetry X-change is now the largest single collection of African poetry in the world, showcasing the work of over 400 poets from 31 countries to date. Poems are archived in written text format, as well as in audio podcasts--enabling visitors to the site to both read the poetry of a wide variety of African poets for themselves, or to listen to the authors read their own works. Aside from the obvious attractions of creating an online archive of the continent's poetry, Kaoma says the Badilisha online project also hopes to empower Africa's artists by Bringing African art and poetry back home, since much of Africa's art is currently done overseas, and by members of the diaspora. Due to this trend, Kaoma says access to local art and poetry within Africa has to date been limited.
"For a range of historical, political and economic reasons, many of the important collections and productions of African art today are located orperformed outside of Africa [...] Africans living on the continent have limited access to their own artistic heritage and the world of contemporary practitioners," Kaoma said.
One key frustration of this lack of access, she explains, is the way it negatively impacts on individual poets, their development, and sense of self-confidence.
"[The lack of access] means that African writers' and poets' knowledge of other African authors and poets is limited, preventing the inspiration...