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1985–2021

Omotayo “Tayo” Jolaosho passed away on October 22, 2021, in Tampa, Florida, at the age of 36. They were a gifted anthropologist, an award-winning playwright and performer, a full-stack software engineer, a yoga instructor, and much more. In 2020, at the height of racial justice protests amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, they founded a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting healing and collective recovery for multiple marginalized individuals and communities.

Tayo’s research was based in South Africa, where they explored the role of embodied performance within activist collectives opposing neoliberal state economic policies. Between 2009 and 2010, they conducted research in Johannesburg with a social movement organization, investigating its internal dynamics and public contestations through a performance lens. Their book, You Can’t Go to War Without Song: Performance and Community Mobilization in Post-Apartheid South Africa, will be published by Indiana University Press in October 2022. Tayo also wrote and produced a play, Three Women (Break the Silence), based on interviews with women activists in South Africa, which was performed in South Africa. They were also coeditor of African Women Writing Resistance: Contemporary Voices (2020); published articles in Signs, African Studies Review, Journal of Material Culture, and Safundi; and poem in WSQ (Women’s Studies Quarterly) under their nom de plume, Zindzi Bedu. Finally, they were in the last stages of creating “The Freedom Sung Project,” an interactive, online digital ethnography of embodied performance.

Tayo was born on August 23, 1985, in Lagos, Nigeria. In 1997, they moved to the United States. They graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2004 from Simon’s Rock College of Bard (where they started at the age of 14) with a BA in the Liberal Arts with a concentration in Music and Integrated Arts. After graduation, they worked for one year providing leadership training to marginalized residents of Detroit, taught four courses for Simon’s Rock as a teaching assistant, and spent two summers in South Africa teaching human rights to international students as part of International Human Rights Exchange. These experiences led them to graduate study in anthropology. Tayo received their MA (2009) and PhD (2013) in Cultural Anthropology from Rutgers University, New Brunswick. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Merced, they joined the faculty of the Department of African Studies at the University of South Florida in 2015 where they were a much-loved colleague, teacher, mentor, and advisor.

Tayo’s research in South Africa was supported over the years by fellowships and grants from Fulbright Hays, National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship, and Florida Education Fund’s McKnight Junior Faculty Development fellowship, among other awards.

Tayo was not just an accomplished person of many talents, but a warm, fierce, brave, joyful soul who used their gifts and skills to try to understand the deep disparities of the world and do whatever they could to bring about justice and change, whether through their writing, teaching, singing, yoga, or activism. Gifts in there memory may be made to the Omotayo Jolaosho Memorial Scholarship Fund at the University of South Florida.

Photograph of a person
Omotayo (Tayo) Jolaosho

(Dorothy Hodgson with Dillon Mahoney)

Cite as: Hodgson, Dorothy with Dillon Mahoney. 2022. “Omotayo ‘Tayo’ Jolaosho.” Anthropology News website, January 25, 2022.

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