By Femi Odugbemi
‘There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and intelligence transform a yellow spot into the sun,’ so says the legendary artist Pablo Picasso. I think that quote translates in human form to another man of the arts closer to my tribe than Picasso. His name is Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo. And today he celebrates 60 years of life, a large portion of which he has spent transforming ‘yellow spots into the sun.’
He is many things to many people. His shadow looms over various occupations and spaces. He has been a journalist, newspaper editor, film/theatre critic, art curator, culture advocate, programme chair of Committee of Relevant Arts, Lagos Book and Arts Festival, Co-Founder IREP Documentary Film Festival, Consultant to dozens of Academic Programmes globally, editor/publisher of best-selling books and support pillar for hundreds of art practitioners. Jahman Anikulapo is beyond a name in the arts, it is a complete sentence. It translates to creative passion, excellence, doggedness, experience, engagement and a wealth of history and context for any and every artist of note across Africa’s landscape.
Picasso’s wise words not only captures the essence of our man, it kinds of explains him. Jahman is really first and foremost an artiste. He is a thespian, he studied and began on stage as a performer. So his passion for the arts is rooted organically in what he is. And that passion runs deep I have had the pleasure of his performance in my TV series Battleground and also my film Gidi Blues. So when he is critiquing a film or stage play or writing about art, he is able to understand and analyse the story and the storyteller with professional integrity because he is one too. The passion he shows promoting art productions and projects is never casual. And it is not unusual for him to spend his time, money, ideas connecting projects to opportunities and funding at zero profit to himself.
Jahman is also an astute intellectual who comes to a myriad of issues always well-prepared with relevant research information and contribution that is cogent and insightful. Be careful to engage the man in casual debate. Whatever the subject, chances are Jahman has more detailed background and context than you are armed with. He reads voraciously. He is a consumer of art of all genre and he engages the creators of art widely across the globe. He is also widely connected to the academic community globally and in any other country Jahman Anikulapo will certainly be Adjunct Professor of varied disciplines whether it is journalism, theatre, music, dance, literature or film. He is an invaluable resource person to many academic papers, research projects and books. I met him over 30 years ago and I have determined him to be one of the most brilliant minds that I have ever met, and I come from a family of authors, teachers and Professors. Any conversation with Jahman is an exploration into vast fields of ideas and concepts. Co-founding the IREP Documentary Film Festival was an idea that became reality and sustained for over twelve years so far principally on the wings of Jahman’s vast influence, networks and relentless engagement.
Finally Jahman is recognized easily in Picasso’s words because he is a transformational figure. He has ‘with the help of his art and intelligence transformed a yellow spot into sun.’ And he has done it over and over again. Whether through Art and culture journalism or as facilitator or collaborator of art development institutions like CORA, Lagos Book and Art Festival, IREP Documentary Film Festival, Culture Advocates, or his contribution on the boards of so many culture collectives and societies, Jahman is always at the centre of institutions and initiatives that have the purpose of empowering the art and the artiste. He is simply the conscience and voice of the arts and it will be difficult to name all the people and all the initiatives that have benefitted from his guidance and personal sacrifice.
Beyond it all, for me there two things the man represents and for which I admire him deeply – his authenticity and his integrity. What you see with Jahman is what you get. Jahman says what he means and means what he says. He lives truth and you can rely on his commitment 100% even when it is inconvenient for him. Very rare to find a man in our neck of the woods, of his accomplishments, and with his massive influence, who remains as accessible, humble, human and kind to people at both the top and bottom of the ladder. At just 60 years old he is by every measure of excellence a legend and a rare gem. We are so blessed to call him our own. I pray that God will continue to keep him for us all in good health and much happiness. We need him for another 60 years at least.
Happy birthday Jahman Oladejo, and on behalf of so many, for who your journey has been a great blessing, we say thank you!
*** Femi ODUGBEMI, filmmaker & content creator is co-founder of I-REPRESENT International Documentary Film Festival Lagos.
16th January 2023.
By Femi Odugbemi