Peju Layiwola is the initiator of this project and Associate Professor of Art History. She is Head, Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos. She received a BA (Metal Design) from University of Benin in 1988, and an MA and Ph.D. Visual Arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Layiwola's co-edited the book, Benin 1897.com: Art and the Restitution Question also the title of her solo exhibition is based on the British incursion to Benin and raises issues that arise from that encounter. She has also authored several papers on African Art history. Some of which appear in Writing African Women: Gender, Popular Culture and Literature in West Africa, Zed Press, London. Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria, Snoeck Publishers, Belgium, African Lace, in Museum fur Volkerkunde, Snoeck Publishers, Belgium, and N. Paradoxa: International Feminist Art Journal, Press UK and the Open Arts Journal, UK. She is the winner of several awards. She was nominated partner for the US State Department smARTpower project initiative by the US Secretary of State in 2012. Her works have been exhibited in Nigeria and beyond. She has facilitated several workshops, given talks across the country and is the founder of the Women and Youth Art Foundation, an organisation committed to empowering women and young girls through the art.
Peju Layiwola - Project
Installation, terracotta/bronze, 2014. Bronze works included in this installation were made by Eric Osa Ogbemudia, Benson Edobor, Anthony Osemwengie, Ikponmwonsa Inneh, Nosakhare Omorodion(Chief Okao),Friday Iyamu, William Edosomwan, Johnbull II Enobakhare, Imuwahen Edebor and Alex Osemwengie.
Benin being a highly patriarchal society restricts female participation in the art of bronze casting. As an extension of her community projects she engages with wards of the casters to provide avenues for further exploration of artistic forms. Layiwola recounts the colonial encounter and the plundering of bronze works from the palace of the king. Her installation of terracotta heads and plaques in the house of the head of the bronze guild, Ine N'Igun provides a platform for collaborating with the bronze casters whose works also form a part of the installation.
A series of terracotta pieces comprising one thousand heads is a reference to the plundering that went on in Benin in 1897 at the palace of Oba Ovonramwen, the king of Benin. Four thousand works in bronze, ivory and regalia were stolen from the king's bedroom, stacked in the palace courtyard and then carted away to London. These works were auctioned on their arrival in the UK and continue to attract huge prices on the international art market without recourse to Nigeria. In the diary of one of the British soldiers, Captain Mark Walker, he described the art works as 'loot'. The heads are kept in a similar way in which they were found in 1897. The overhead plaques are a way of scripting back history, a history which keep recurring. The archival records and diaries of the British officers provide incredible records of their entry into Benin, the attack on its people and the period immediately after. These records reveal how the soldiers went after the rich resources of the region- not only the art but also the natural materials. Benin was richly endowed. From these we read of number of ammunitions expended on a single day, number of casualties, the size of the British army that overtook Benin, the dates in specific events occurred like the hanging of the King's men and the burning of towns and villages. One of the plaques reads 'Queen Rejoices' as was the case at the fall of Benin and the eventual take over by British soldiers. 117 years after the sack of Benin and 100 years since the amalgamation of Nigeria, many of the artistic resources from Benin still remain outside the region. This scriptorium, like the history it reveals looms over Benin and Nigeria. The current location of the installation in the Ine N' Igun's house pays homage to a tradition that predates British incursion. The guild of bronze casters, the most prestigious guild in the kingdom, was headed by the Ine N'Igun. The artists produced the bronze works that adorn various museums around the world. The art of casting still continues till today. It is significant here to celebrate the pre-colonial structures of Benin for what it held in the past and what it portends for today and the future.
Location 17 Igun Street, Ine n' Igun's palace, Whose Centenary? 6 December, 2014, Benin City.