Heart of Arts

Professor Chris Adejumo (1959-2023): The Passing of a Great Artist

 Toyin Falola


The mystery of death remains one that humans, and maybe other living entities, cannot understand its very essence, no matter the efforts put in place to unravel the phenomenon. Of course, death signals the end of an activity, the physical finitude of a living organism, and, by implication, the beginning of another, but in the real sense, it remains a mystery itself in the scheme of human and animal activities.

The recent passing away of Professor Chris Adejumo, my Yoruba brother at the University of Texas at Austin, came as a rude shock, which reality remains difficult to come to terms with for anyone who knew the prominent figure. I actually knew of his Ibadan lineage before we met shortly after he was hired at Austin. His family had produced two Olubadan for the great city, while their current Mogaji—head of the agboole—is known to me. We shared similar stories on Agbeni—a center of wood carvings—where my interest in arts developed as far back as the 1950s.

Professor Adejumo was a proverbial light that shined very brightly in the Atlantic world, giving the educational activities the needed inspiration to continue very amazingly and effectively, but unfortunately, the light shined briefly. Nigeria, and Africa at large, has lost an important figure to the death in Adejumo himself for this fast-rising career always had the inspiration to do something differently and bring creativity to the world of art. When we mention the knowledge export that has cumulatively improved the status of Nigeria, and Africa in the global society, it is difficult to mention this without talking about the immense contributions that this precocious mind added to the engagement. Having earned his first degree in Nigeria in 1983, Adejumo made his way to the diaspora, identifying early enough the area he wanted to make his name and marks. Apparently, that decision made him one of the brightest artists that the Yoruba have produced.

Adejumo communicated in artistic productions and his intellectual investment in that knowledge economy through a commitment that cannot be overemphasized. Arts, to him, was everything, and human existence would be devoid of significant importance in the absence of artistic culture. When you study the body of his works and the world of his art, some of which are included here, you would easily discover that here was a man who understood hidden messages that are locked in the heart of the world through art and the capabilities to interpret unknown images, strange carvings, and surprising images on canvass. Artistic brilliance, to many, is often not located in the bold paintings and sculptures that we often come across in our day-to-day engagements; rather, it resides in the ability to carve out messages, niches and essentially unique information from the artifacts that are constructed, paintings that are made, and sculpture that are created. To that extent, the relationship between the artist and the production is a very intricate one because an artist fails to tell the story locked in the production until they simplify their messages and express their intentions in the most lucid language to the most ordinary of their audience.

Adejumo greatly understood this responsibility, and that could be easily spotted in his undying determination to spread the messages through his intellectual productions that are ushered into existence by his conversations in any knowledge exchange programs, projects and procedures. I cannot count the number of times when this enigma facilitated an entirely new dimension to artistic interpretation. He belonged to that category of thinkers who worked to speak loudly and communicated very effectively.

I am particularly fascinated by the exemplary contributions of this great academic to the human world as I came across some of his outstanding deeds to change the dynamics of the world that needs a change. An initiative that he championed, tagged “Children of the Future” (GTYAP), was aimed at the redefinition of raising and developing young minds that would interact with the emerging realities of the future and produce meanings and ideas that would help in the transformation of the world at large. It remains very consistent with this unique individual who has not only invested in ideas that would generally improve human history in some ways but also invested in the business of the future by channeling ideas that can awaken the giants in our youth.

Anyone who understood his trajectory would also have no problem accepting the fact that his life was an excellent one dedicated to the undertakings of change and progress. Adejumo wanted a world where the minds of youths would align with the conventional concerns of the global population without being limited by the problems of race and its artificial identity. In the grand scheme of things, one cannot underplay the effort made towards the initiation of programs that would ultimately enhance desirable changes in the ways that people conduct themselves.

When he was alive, he foresaw a world where the human race would be considered a family and would be rid of identity problems and conflicts that have dominated the world. Thus, making extensive efforts in the organization of such projects helped in projecting his selfless services and pure love for the human family. Adejumo, therefore, deserves our respect, for he continued to invest where others were jittery. His life was a demonstration of selflessness, and the overwhelming contributions he made to impact the academic world cannot go unnoticed.

One of the resounding ideological beliefs of Adejumo was that making influence begins by understanding the imperative of change in a world that is largely dominated by shortsighted individuals who generally fight for their pockets and their stomachs. In spite of the places and environment that such forward-looking people are, they are generally motivated by their ambition to be the change that the world needs through their actions and involvement. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Adejumo initiated the project just so that young minds could begin to identify areas where they could be of significant assistance to society at a very early stage. His influence in the Greater Austin Area, the United States of America, always comes as invaluable and exceptional for different reasons. First, the children for whom he organized such a project are economically disadvantaged and without necessary help such as the one he rendered in his program, many of them would not have had the opportunity to improve themselves or develop their intellect. These programs are actually organized to boost their morale, but the essence of the program is more than what is to be understood at the surface. The restoration of their confidence was a chief concern because this enigma understood that the initiation of a revolutionary environment begins by empowering the younger ones to think positively of themselves right from the beginning of their life journey. Without having such a strong foundation, they would not have the courage to unlock their inner ability. It, therefore, goes without saying that the organization of such projects as GTYAP has tremendously helped the targets in ways that cannot be easily accounted for. Apparently, he was a beacon of hope to them.

As much as most of his adult life was spent in the diaspora, where he had made extraordinary contributions, he became a light to others and an inspiration to many. But this has never changed his connection to his home country and particularly its artistic heritage. Quite a number of his academic engagements devoted to the interrogation of African arts have redefined the general understanding of people about the artistic properties of African countries. I remember on one occasion of reading his work, he discussed the significance of transatlantic history in the spreading of Yorùbá art knowledge and engagement, with a specific focus on how the migrants in the diaspora environment used their memory to recreate events or define the realities of their new world. To that extent, the Yorùbá, who were part of the victims of the transatlantic slavery that took place centuries ago in Africa, became an instrument of cultural rejuvenation in the diaspora world as they remained committed to the extraction of their cultural ideas and values and used them to create a new impression in the strange environment. This contributed to the monumental increase in the popularity of the people and their cultural resources, which inevitably invited outsiders to their roots. Adejumo is very straightforward in his intellectual concentration when he argued that slavery was negative and the intentions unwarranted, but despite this awareness, the enslaved Yorùbá population used that as their power to demonstrate their creative power. The Yoruba have made a name for themselves.

It is difficult to look at what Dr. Adejumo did with his exceptional intellectual engagements and not see the determination of a man with a passion for redefining and redecorating the situation of his environment. His belief that things are not generally without aesthetic balance was what informed his genuine contributions to the projects and programs that would redefine and refine what art is in the human world. He made his marks, and it is apparent that they are very remarkable.

Professor Adejumo’s demise dug a sore wound in the heart of us in Texas, knowing that his exemplary qualities would be missed greatly. It cannot be overemphasized that when individuals with such energy and interest are lost in the journey of life, it brings so much agony for others who have hitherto looked up to them for inspiration and determination. Of course, he was relatively young in outlook, but his contributions are such that they indicate the extraordinary quality of a man who was genuinely tied to his art. He was a lover of peace and was adventurous to a fault. Without his contagious inspiration, the initiation of many projects would have been ultimately difficult to execute.

Chris, the generality of diaspora Africans will miss you, and I must say that the student community who have directly or indirectly benefitted from your outstanding dedication will always miss you. Your determination was contagious, and your efforts have had a great impact on people who shared experiences with you and, I suppose, other individuals as well. I wish you eternal rest and peace in the next world. Your memories would be etched in the minds of individuals who drank from your well of knowledge. Once again, I am grateful for allowing me to use your work as a cover for one of my successful books.

Adieu a great artist and teacher.

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