LITERARY GEMS: What really is this landscape called home?

Saturday February 29 2020

The book cover of 'I come from Returning'.

'I come from Returning' is a project of Sawti, which connects audiences to new art. PHOTO | FILE | NMG 

CAROLINE ULIWA
By CAROLINE ULIWA
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Sawti has released a collection of poems, illustrations, photographs, letters and an interview from artistes from East Africa dubbed I come from Returning. The project, supported by the British Council, connects audiences to new art across Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and the UK.

‘The book comes off as a diary, taking an intimate look at what we hold on to in deciphering the landscape called home: “The question of who do we return to when visiting a ‘home’? Often coupled with ‘Who do we leave behind when creating one elsewhere?’ Re-location, not solely in the context of the diaspora but also from rural to urban, from where your language/dialect is a majority to forming new bonds with new vocabulary that often still feels insufficient — these are the voices we champion,” the foreword reads.

There are literary gems in this book like the poem by Safia Elhilo titled Girls That Never Die, which affirms femininity. Then they are candid rumblings of notable figures like the acclaimed author Sulaiman Addonia from Eritrea/Ethiopia.

“I think I am made of memories — in the way that my body is made up of 70 per cent water. Memories are incredibly important to me. I lived without my family for such a long time, that memory binds me to people that I have lost, to the love I knew I could have had,” Sulaiman says in an interview with writer Hibaq Farah.

You will also bump into refreshing illustrations capturing vivid figures steeped in culture, like the one on the cover of a woman in traditional Sudan attire by Mosab Zkaria. There are also works of emerging cinematic photographers like Calvin Kulaya to experienced photojournalists like Mwanzo Milinga. But what makes the book authentically East African is its use of the three major languages of the region — English, Kiswahili and Arabic.

However, it would seem pooling together different artistes was ambitious and failed to achieve the intended finesse. Some contributors appear to be too good compared with the rest, dampening ones pace in enjoying the book. The placement of pictures and words too, is a tad messy.

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The book was published in the UK and launched recently in London, Zanzibar and Khartoum.