In the space of a few weeks, four unrelated people sent me interviews and writings by Bayo Akomolafe, all with a subject line that went something like: “essential reading for this time.” I’d never heard of the Nigerian philosopher and poet before, but as I launched into his work, it quickly became apparent why so many people were shining a light his way. His website bursts with provocations and offerings like: “These times are urgent. Let us slow down”, “The way we respond to the crisis is part of the crisis,” and, perhaps most stirring of all, “We are coming down to Earth. We will not arrive intact.”
Born in a Christian home to Yoruba parents, much of Bayo’s upbringing was lived believing, “If it was white it was right.” He lost his father suddenly as a teenager, sending him on an inward journey that led him to train as a clinical psychologist – only to find that something else was tugging at his sleeves, something beyond articulation. Through writing and teaching, he has been able to create a home for the unsolvable and preposterous, one that accommodates our yearning for a world beyond binaries of right and wrong and “more at peace than the stories of infinite growth allow.” In 2016, he co-founded the Emergence Network, an organisation of trickster activist-artists inspired to rethink our patterns of responding to crises.
Today, Bayo considers his most sacred work learning how to be with his children, Alethea and Kyah and his wife and “life-nectar,” Ijeoma. Together, they are on a journey of unlearning, living in Chennai, India. A wise and widely-regarded voice in the climate conversation, Bayo offers perspectives that challenge human centrality and the hope of us fixing the crises we’ve created. Instead, his work calls for meeting the incomprehensibility of the moment, for becoming “fugitives” from the established order who come together around outlawed desires – thereby, perhaps, orienting somewhere deeper than solutions, somewhere “too sacred for words to embrace.”