Yinka Olatunbosun

Another solo exhibition coming exactly a year after her inaugural edition at the Raw Gallery at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa keeps Peju Layiwola fresh in the industry’s consciousness. The exhibition, which University of Lagos’s current Head of Department of Creative Arts titled Indigo Reimagined, revisits the indigenous clothing tradition of dyed fabrics known as adire in south-western Nigeria. For Layiwola, whose career was partly weaned on the tutelage of her mother Princess Elizabeth Olowu – the daughter of a former Benin monarch, Oba Okenzua II – and by her studies in art history, this exhibition brings together her overall experience and engagement with the cloth.

True, she had indeed written articles on textiles, which have been published in reputable journals. But, her hands-on experience leading workshops on tie-dye, batik, silk painting at her women’s centre for art in Surulere, Lagos extends her trajectory. Add to this, the designing of costumes for the public art project, Whose Centenary? Igun Street, Benin City, in 2014.

For keen devotees of Layiwola’s artistic trajectory, the exhibition also lifts the veil on the beauty and functions of other indigenous crafts like pottery and metalwork associated with dyeing. Hence, the installations featured in Indigo Reimagined highlights are not restricted to the dyed textile as a site of adornment and signification. Rather, they also redirect the viewers’ gaze to the fact that the very process of making art can be considered as art in its own right.

In the exhibition’s catalogue, there are short articles by such leading academics and artists as Jean Borgatti, Janine Sytsma, Patricia Oyelola, Ayo Adeduntan, Emmanuelle Speisse, Tobenna Okwuosa, Phoenix Savage and Nengi Omuku, many of whom have publications on African textile traditions. The foreword to this catalogue is written by Ayo Olukoju. Among the events organised around the exhibition is a panel to discuss scheduled to hold at the next Lagos Studies Association conference, from June 27 to June 29.

There will be a gallery talk with the artist as well as a discussion with Elizabeth Olowu, mother of the artist, who is celebrated as the first female to specialise in the art of bronze casting in Nigeria.

The princess will speak about the early career of her daughter and about her artistic practice as a pioneering student of the Department of Creative Arts, University of Benin. She will also provide insights into her inroad into the art of metal casting in Benin whilst working with the guild of Benin bronze casters. This exhibition, which is supported by the University of Lagos Research CRC grant 2018, is a fitting comeback show for Professor Layiwola, who has carved a special niche for herself in the local art scene.

The 1988 University of Benin BA holder, who also holds an MA and a PhD in art history from the University of Ibadan in 1991 and 2004 respectively, is a widely respected figure in the visual arts sector. She is best remembered for her previous exhibitions Benin Art and the Restitution Question held in 2010, Whose Centenary?, held in 2014 and Return held in 2018.

Her career in the academics had started at the University of Benin in 1991. It was from her that she would later join the academic staff of the University of Lagos in 2002. But then, her non-profit community-oriented ventures like Women and Youth Art Foundation (Wy Art), which she founded in 1994, have helped to engrave her name in the collective consciousness. A fall-out of these ventures was the creation of the first DVDs on teaching arts and crafts in Nigeria. A recipient of several awards at almost every step in her career, Layiwola had won the departmental prize in Applied Arts 1987, the best graduating student at the University of Benin art school in 1988, the NYSC Merit Award in Lagos State (1989), the Distinguished Researcher’s Award, Faculty of Arts, the University of Lagos in 2007, two Central Research Grants of the University of Lagos and commendation for teaching at the University of Lagos, in 2005.

On the international scene, Layiwola was recently selected as a Tyson Scholar at the Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, USA (2019-2020) and to share her time as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar, University of Arkansas; Terra Foundation grantee for American Art 2018; CAA-Getty Alumni grantee (2018), Nominated, US International Leadership Programme (IVLP) 2011; Partner with Bronx Museum of the Arts on the Hilary Clinton US State Department SmARTpower programme, 2012; US Lagos State Consulate Grantee 2017; US Alumni Exchange Award 2018; Goethe Resident Artist grantee, Kunstsamlung NorthreinWestafalen, (KNW), Dusseldorf, 2017. She is also the president-elect and the vice president of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA), USA and member of various distinguished associations; Board of the Lagos Studies Association; Art Powa Publishing Network(ARTPOWA), South Africa; International Committee of Museums; College Arts Association (CAA); Nigerian Field Society, Ibadan Branch (NFS) and other organisations.

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