Batik painting artist, Chief Sangodare Ajala is one of the adopted sons of late Suzanne Wenger, popularly known as, Adunni Olorisa. Six years after the death of the Osun priestess, some of her ‘children’ including Chief Ajala still reside in the rented apartment where she lived till she breathed her last. In this conversation with AJIBOLA AMZAT, Chief Ajala, a Sango priest and 2010 winner, National Art Competition reminisces on the life and time of the woman who raised him and trained him to becoming a world-renowned artist. I am one of the adopted sons of Suzan Wenger since 1959. I was 11 years old when Mama brought me in to her household. Then, I was a reject. I would have loved to acquire Western education like some of my contemporaries, but I was rejected at school because I used to plait my hair to school. I came from the family of Sango worshippers where men are allowed to plait hairs. But that was not an appearance that any school could condone from any student. The school administrators insisted that I convert from Sango worshipper to a Christian or a Muslim. I refused. Other people who had similar challenge at different times included Chief Yemi Elebu Ibon, the Araba of Osogboland and Professor Wande Abimbola, the former Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University. Professor Abimbola had to convert into Christianity before he could be allowed to go to school. But people like Chief Elebuibon had to teach himself how to read. I thank God that I met Mama (Suzanne Wenger) who introduced me and several others to the school of arts. We learnt under her feet and that is the only education I have. Osun Grove and Suzanne Wenger Without Suzanne, Osun grove may have been a completely dilapidated. For very few people know the true value of the site before UNESCO adopted it as an heritage site. Even now, many people still don’t know the values of such historical treasure. For many years, only Mama spearheaded the maintenance of the Osun grove, deploying every resource at her disposal. It was not government or king that maintained the grove. She did, using grants and earnings from her works. You know, she was a renowned artist all over the world. But when Mama became too old to work, the structures she erected at the grove started falling apart. The people from National Museum made attempt to take possession of her work, but they were prevented. Should they have been allowed, all the works by now would have been stolen and carted abroad! Look at the National Museum in Lagos, all the works you see there are not originals. They have sold all the originals, go and check, what you will find there are copies. That is why we insisted to take care of Mama’s works ourselves. And respite came our way when she celebrated her 92 years birthday. About 17 ambassadors that came to Osogbo saw the artefacts and pledged to save her works. They later contributed money and invited group of artists that had been working with Mama. These are members of Osogbo Sacred Art. These are the people given the mandate to maintain the grove and works of Mama. Also there are bodies known as, IOT Suzanne Wenger and Suzanne Wenger Trust, who have interest in keeping the legacy of Mama alive. The IOT has continued to pay the rent of the house where Mama lived. They pay the rent every 10 years. We, the members of Osogbo Sacred have decided not to allow her legacies perish. I am the chairman of the group. So this house is not Mama’s house? No. The house does not belong to Mama. She rented it many years ago; the owner of the house belongs to one of the second chief of Oba of Osogbo. The man is late now, but the family collects the rent. Value of UNESCO endorsement UNESCO is just there to help us promote the grove. Now promoter can go to some places to market Osun using UNESCO endorsement as a marketing line. But that is all about it. You will realize that money realised from such venture is never used to develop the grove. Rather, they collect the money and share among themselves. Ask any native of the town, what has been the gain of UNESCO recognition of Osun grove since, no one can tell you what the gain is. But the state government has just renovated the grove… The state government only built a pavilion. We don’t need pavilion in that grove. For an event that takes place once a year, there is no need for such monstrosity. A removable structure will just be fine. That pavilion is an ugly thing in that place. You are not likely to see that kind of defacement in Europe or America. The grove is not a stadium. How do you expect thousands of people come and gather on the structure that looks like a small parlour? Even when Professor Soyinka visited the place, he expressed disappointment. Although we appreciate governor’s intention to upgrade the place, but that is not the way to develop the grove. On Suzanne Wenger’s personage Suzanne is human, but she is also godly. She was somebody who never pursued material wealth throughout her lifetime. About 13 of us lived in the house with her. When we were young she fed us and provided us materials to work with. Some of us later became successful artists and travelled abroad, I stayed back to take care of Mama till she died. At her old age, I used to carry her to the grove to work, and waited for her till she finished work. Those moments she shared a lot of secrets with me. Most important, I leant from her that money is not that important as people think. And that view of life shapes the way I relate with people. I am an herbalist, but I will never ask people to bring money for healing them. Healing belongs to God. I am also an artist, I specialize in batik painting, and my works have been exhibited at different places in Europe and America. Each time I remember what I have achieved in life; I cannot but be grateful to Mama. Culled from: http://ngrguardiannews.com/artnew/176836-why-i-remain-faithful-to-adunni-olorisa-s-cultural-artistic-heritage.
‘Why I Remain Faithful To Adunni Olorisa’s Cultural, Artistic Heritage’