Professor Peju Layiwola recently held her solo exhibition titled Benin 1897.com and The Restitution Question in 2010 at the J.F Ade Ajayi Auditorium Gallery, University of Lagos (Unilag), where she exhibited her recent body of works entitled Indigo Re-imagined at the same venue.
The exhibition brings together her overall experience and engagement with cloth in both research and studio experience working with youths in her Centre for Arts and Craft. It also situates her artistic practice at the junction of her Yoruba and Edo lineage.
Professor of Art History, University of Benin, Jean Borgatti, noted that Layiwola sought to transform the historical reading of the five-yard adire fabric and its cultural underpinnings, including techniques and materials, into a new or different art form that expresses the complexity of its origins and use.
It also suggested the changing patterns of use of different levels of skill, methods (wax resist), material (aniline dye in a variety of colours), design renditions (free-form in linear patterns, and other innovations by artists over the course of the latter part of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st century.
Lending his voice, Director of the Mbari Institute for Contemporary African Art, Washington DC, Mimi Wolford, said Layiwola’s three-prong exhibition of cloth, clay and metal was quite a feat. Her huge wall of installation of quilted patchwork pieces of a variety of different patterns of adire confronted and astounded a message to be aware of the real wealth of a nation.
“While this installation is dazzling, it is the little appreciated metal stencils used in creating adire that have captured my heart. Layiwola has fabricated her own stencils, making them into a grid or a wall. Like lattice work, they are not a barrier, but an invitation to view each one and see-through each one, like a poem for the future,” he said.
Layiwola told the gathering that history played a major role in the choice of materials by in her work. Her art, she noted, was also inspired by her dual heritage. Being Yoruba and Edo, she enjoyed the advantage of seating on the shoulders of one’s culture, and peeping into the other. Sometimes, she appeared to sit on the shoulders of both and peep into the future. Much as she drew on these two cultures, she echoed her fascination with the ordinary and simple things that continue t6o inspire.
She added it had taken her quite some time but she thought more of creating these works which was about conceptualisation. “And when you have it in mind, then the rest is very easy,” she said.
She, subsequently, started thinking about that, a very long period of time during the exhibition that she had in South Africa, a year ago, she engaged in social clothes and how the styles related to colonial history. For this exhibition, she began to think about all these layers of working with cloth, where she did the centenary project where she designed those costumes.
Coming to Ibadan in 1989, when she did her masters, she began to look at cloth that coriginated from her father’s lineage in Idumagbo, Lagos State, and when she got married to her husband who hailed from Iseyin, a very popular weaving centre in Oyo State, she began to collect fabrics since that time and kept them aside not, knowing what she would do with it; but the spark came when she began to think about moving on from the motif topic of Benin dominated objects and the fact that it was very topical now.
After her exhibition in 2010, she began to think about that and engaging in horizon that would expand the scope of cloth and take it away from the domain of crafts and take it to a scholarly domain where we could engage in two different materials.
She declared, “So, this exhibition is about cloth, but it is not cloth. It in only one artwork that is made mainly of cloth, so being able to use it in different ways expands the meaning of cloth. Cloth itself goes beyond mere closing of the body; it also tells the philosophies of people.”
Some of the works exhibited included Even Mother’s Wrapper couldn’t Cover, Atewo Lara Owo Enikinanije, Orimipe, Aso Ibora, 1 & 2, Stamping History, Close Up, Sun Bebe, Indigo Wrapper, Body Blue, among others.