Artist and adopted son of Susanne Wenger, Sangodare Ajala, dies at 73

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Eminent Batik artist, traditionalist, and past winner of the National Art Competition, Sangodare Ajala, has died at the age of 73. A staff of the National Museum, Osogbo, Mrs Toyin Ajayi, confirmed the passing. The artist had been ill for some time. He passed away in a hospital in Osogbo on October 29. Ajala was until his death the leader of the New Sacred Art Movement founded by his adoptive mother, the Austrian artist Susanne Wenger. The group was responsible for the creation of dozens of decade’s old artworks at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Osun Grove in Osogbo. After Wenger’s death in 2009, Ajala led restoration efforts to maintain the artworks, a capacity in which he served until his death. He was a trustee of the Adunni Olorisha Trust, a charitable organisation that works to preserve the legacy of Wenger and the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove.

Sangodare Ajala

The late Ajala was also a Sango priest and herbalist. Paying tribute, his fellow traditionalist and childhood friend, foremost Ifa priest, Araba Ifayemi Elebuibon, said, “I was shocked when I got a call on Friday that he joined the elders. He was a hardworking man, and sadly, he has gone when we are supposed to be reaping the fruits of our labour. He worked very hard but didn’t enjoy his labour. I will sorely miss my friend and confidant.”Leading Osogbo artist, Chief Jimoh Buraimoh, also described Wenger’s adopted son as a gem and ‘opomulero’ (key pillar)=, adding, “He was more or less the person who knew [Wenger] the most. He was the guiding light and authority on [her] works, especially those at the Osun Grove. Sangodare was very kind, straightforward, kind, brave and respectful. He will be missed by Osogbo Artists, especially those of the Osogbo Artists Village in the Grove, because he supported the village during periods of crises.

His death has created a vacuum that will be difficult to fill.”Sangodare Ajala won the third National Art Competition in 2010 with his Batik piece titled, ‘The Fire of Nigeria Burns Strongly,’ which he created to mark the country’s golden jubilee. He said at the time, “My artwork is inspired by the oral traditions and myths that I was born into: that of the Yoruba people. But the meaning transcends any single religion or belief.”He will be buried in Osogbo on Friday, November 5, 2021, according to traditional rites.

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