#Article (Archive)

No Longer Art for Art's Sake

May 6, 2009, 4:55 AM

The forthcoming Banjul Festival of World Poetry is a great initiative. It is a local event with a global flavour. At the Roc Heights Lodge, Cape Point, on Friday 8 May 2009, poets and poetry fans will be meeting to enjoy an evening of poetry recitation. The recitation as the name of the festival suggests will include poets and poetry from other parts of the world. The international character of the festival is significant because literature generally has universal resonance. It is therefore unnaturally to confine it to national boundaries.

This is the second time in the past three years that a literary of international outlook is being held in The Gambia. The first one was the SABLE LitFest that took place in July 2007. Then, quite unlike the forthcoming one, novelists, poets, performers, playwrights, filmmakers - just anyone engaged in artistic articulation - took part. It remains a memorable event because it brought worldwide focus on Gambian literature. Some of the aspiring young Gambian writers who were active at the festival have gone on to greater things, having had their confidence boosted by the interaction with kindred spirits.

The Banjul Festival of World Poetry is pitched to have a similar impact. It is expected that most of the poets who will be participating in it will seize the opportunity to shore up their self confidence and take their craft to higher heights.

No matter what happens at the festival, literary creators must bear in mind that art no longer created just for art's sake; literature does not and must not exist in a vacuum. It must serve a cause. Generally, literature must serve a worthy cause; it must be on the side of the truth at all times. It must promote social justice and peaceful coexistence. When literature is debased to serve base causes, it loses its relevance.

Talking about relevance, an African writer - poet, novelist, or playwright - ceases to be useful if he or she ignores the concerns of the people of the continent. In a continent that is ravaged by despair, disease, death, destruction and leadership deficit, the writer has an awesome obligation. It is their duty to create an artistic vision that will provide the way out of the wood. During the anti-colonial struggle the African writer was at the forefront of the quest for political freedom, providing the vision necessary for the success of the struggle. The challenge of the contemporary African writer is to articulate a vision for the continent's economic emancipation.

So we expect to hear at the Banjul Festival of World Poetry, poetry that bears direct relevance to the needs and concerns and aspirations of the African people. We expect to hear poetry that inspires the African people to greater deeds and causes. We expect to hear poetry that imbues the African people with a commitment to the peace, progress and prosperity of the continent. 

"Life is very nice, but it has no shape. It is the purpose of art to give it shape."

Jean Anouilh