Happy 75th Birthday to Professor-Emeritus dele jęgędę, Art Historian, Critic, and Visual Artist, my professor, my boss’ boss, my mentor…
I first met Dr. dele dele jęgędę (no capital letters allowed in his name) in the mid-80s when he came to Yaba College of Technology, from the U.S as a Fulbright Scholar to teach Art History. Of course, his reputation heralded him, given the immeasurable contributions that his ‘Kole the Menace” cartoon strip in the Nigerian Daily Times newspaper, had made to the post-independence media culture of the 70s. I later knew that he was in the 70s a boss to my boss—the prolific and revered editorial cartoonist, Pa Josy Ajiboye, whom I had the opportunity of working with on the Daily Times editorial cartoon desk from the mid-80s to early 90s.
Though we communicated on my relocation to the U.S, it was not until 2009 that I saw this erudite scholar again, when I secured a scholarship to work on my terminal degree at Miami University—Oxford, Ohio. He was the immediate past Chair of the Art Department at Miami University when I started my MFA program. In addition to his invaluable and ceaseless advice, upon which my MFA candidacy owed its success, Professor dele jęgędę’s African Art History Seminar class with its depth of critical analysis, breadth of assigned readings, and highly demanding assignments, broadened my theoretical framework and propelled my interest in the academia. Having had the opportunity of being his student in both Nigeria and the U.S, I observed the manifestation of his background as an art historian/artist/critic/socio-political commentator on his teaching strategy—to the admirable benefit of his students.
As his cerebral masterstrokes delivered evocative (often times, provocative) viewpoints on the pages of various newspapers in the 70s and 80s, so also was his teaching style, balancing the embodiment of the “Awada Kerikeri’ (comedic) phenomenon with a rigorous curriculum/pedagogy. The euphemism that informs the themes and designs of his courses, such as “The gods are here” (African Art History Seminar class 235) resonates many years after the course has been delivered. In one of his classes where Chinua Achebe’s seminal novel, “Things Fall Apart” was a key part of the assigned readings, Dr. jęgędę’s delivery of the course contents, connected his aversion to various crises plaguing his ancestral roots, Nigeria. That was manifested in his intellectual description of the novel’s main character—Okonkwo’s defying Western hegemonic imposition on his native land, Umuofia. One cannot but see the correlation between Okonkwo’s dissatisfaction with colonial infiltrations in Umofia and dele jęgędę’s scathing criticism of players and takers in the politics and policies of his motherland.
The Okonkwo in Professor dele jęgędę was further expressed in his own word: “The social, intellectual, and emotional tensions imposed by (his) voluntary exile—the contradictions inherent in living in an adopted home but incapable of, or unwilling to, sever the umbilical cord to (his) ancestral roots.” (jęgędę, 2013) This to me, is the Okonkwo in all Diasporic intellectuals of Nigerian descent, who have come to challenge, through various channels, the charade at which Nigeria’s rulers usurped the common-wealth of the people. It further illuminates dele jęgędę’s classrooms as sites for both socio-political understanding and paradigm for cultural refinement, with measured doses of parody.
Above all, Professor dele jęgędę remains the most forgiving person I have ever met. On a couple occasions, when I had offended him, he took me in like the biblical prodigal son. He abhors grudges and respects everyone regardless of age, status, color, race, or creed. He is an exemplary leader and a humanist to the core.
According to his biographers, the writings which were coordinated in Wikipedia, he was born on 19 April 1945 in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria and earned his first degree in Fine Arts from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, in 1973. From 1979 to 1983, he studied art history under Roy Sieber at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, where he received his MA and PhD degrees.
Please help in toasting to this humble, honest, principled, professor of mine, mentor of mine, father of mine, and my boss’-boss, on this occasion of his 75th Birthday!
-Adewale Adenle, Teaching Associate/Ph.D candidate, Dept. of Arts Administration, Education, and Cultural Policy, The Ohio State University, Columbus-Ohio.
Read TheNEWS’ Interview with Wale Adenle here