Triumph of talent: Despite challenges, kid artist rules the world

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Akeem Lasisi

His schoolmates do not call him by his real name anymore. Instead, they call him World’s Best – despite the fact that he is not a footballer.

Well, Akuma Ekundayo really deserves to be saluted so. The 15-year-old pupil of Igbobi College, Lagos, conquered the world in his own right recently, when he won an art competition in which student-artists from all parts of the world participated.

The annual competition is the Schlumberger’s SEED, in which students have been participating since 1998, connecting their artistic and creative talents with themes of science and nature. Art works of participating students have been featured in Schlumberger holiday cards, electronic greetings, SEED screensavers, notebooks, posters and other promotional items.

But as happy and handsome as Ekundayo is, he has a touching story behind his young life. If not for the love and caring that his grand-parents have been giving him since childhood, he might have at best ended up a street boy.

For instance, while other children and youths have their parents by their sides regularly, he was still of tender age when he saw his father last. His mother who could have been there for him has been having it too tough in recent years. It was in the course of our correspondent’s interview with Ekundayo in the school that he (correspondent) first got the hint that the fair-complexioned boy is only triumphing against all odds.

“My grandmother has been very supportive of my activities as an artist,” he said. “And my grandfather too. Both have been giving me adequate support.”

The emphasis he placed on the grandparents’ roles had propelled a question on the role his immediate parents had been playing. According to Ekundayo, however, apart from the fact that his father and mother have been separated for long, he has also not set his eyes on his father for many years.

“At times, I ask my grandmother questions on this,” he said. “I think my dad has not come back to me since he and my mum got separated. She (grandmother) even said I have a younger brother. But I haven’t met him as well.”

The first thing that can first give a hint of a peculiarity in Ekundayo’s identity is the combination of his first and surname: Akuma Ekundayo. Whoever is familiar with Nigerian cultures know that while Ekundayo is Yoruba, Akuma is Delta. According to him, his father is from Delta, while the mother is Yoruba.

Another important issue about his name, however, is the import of ‘Ekundayo’ in terms of how success has begun to come his way. In Yoruba, ‘Ekundayo’ means ‘My tears have turned to joy.’

But when further pressed to confirm if he is a victim of child abandonment, Ekundayo only said it was a long story that he too could not really wholly narrate.

In a telephone interview with his grandmother, Mrs. Olukemi Idowu, however, the picture she gave is not that of outright abandonment. But she confirmed that Ekundayo was still small when he saw the father last.

“It is true that his father is not around now,” the woman said. “And he has not been coming around. The fact is that he has problems of unemployment and accommodation in Lagos. So, I think that prompted him to move elsewhere.”

Yet, while Idowu did not give an elaborate account, she indicated that all had not been well with the mother of the winning artist too.

It is not the first time that the young artist, who has a bias for painting, will shine in art competitions. In 2007, Ekundayo won the first prize in the one organised by the National Gallery of Arts. Such a record boosted the hope he had that he would win the national level of the Schlumberger competition. But if he had any belief that he would triumph at the international level, the belief was not a robust one.

“When I got information from my teacher that I had won the prize at the global level, I was very surprised,” he said. “Winning at a big competition like this has given me more confidence to study art. Initially, some people had been discouraging me, saying there is not much money in it. But even my grandparents have seen the reason I want to study art.”

Since he won the award, Ekundayo has been painting more frequently. One of his new works is the portrait of Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, and that of a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Prof. Ayodele Falase, who is also an alumnus of Igbobi College.

The grandmother recalled that the boy had developed interest in painting since he was in the primary school. “And since that time, we have been encouraging him,” she added.

Yet, Ekundayo gave kudos to his art teacher, Mr. Sunny Otobor, and another teacher, Mrs. Abiodun Onikoro, as well as the school’s management for the support they gave him.

In a chat with Otobor, the teacher noted that Ekundayo’s respect for the advice he (teacher) gave him to think of the theme based on his environment paid off in the rendition of the winning work.

Otobor says, “Akuma is naturally gifted. He is very good at naturalist works. He works like a professional. Just prompt him on some techniques and he will come out with beautiful paintings.”

The theme of the latest edition is Biodiversity, entailing the variety and complexity of species that make the ecosystem healthy and resilient.

“Biodiversity is one of nature’s laws,” the organisers note. “On Earth, we are surrounded by plants, flowers, trees, insects, birds, fish, animals, and, of course, other humans. Every one of us—and every species—contributes to our planet’s health. This is biodiversity. With it, the Earth’s ecosystem is resilient and healthy; without it, the Earth is fragile.”

Such a guideline had prompted Ekundayo to bring together various characters close to nature on a painting board.


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