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Layiwola goes to museum with Adire installation

By Tajudeen Sowole
29 September 2019   |   3:57 am
From her extensive scholarly works on ancient Benin art to the current show about indigenous fabric adire, Prof Peju Layiwola’s mastery of native African contents keep soaring. Across the world, Layiwola’s works, mostly in the critical visual context of appropriating native subjects

Stamping History

From her extensive scholarly works on ancient Benin art to the current show about indigenous fabric adire, Prof Peju Layiwola’s mastery of native African contents keep soaring.

Across the world, Layiwola’s works, mostly in the critical visual context of appropriating native subjects, have brought freshness into 21st-century art appreciation.

Layiwola’s mastery of native visual cultural contents continues as her tour art exhibition Indigo Reimagined makes a stopover from October 5-13, 2019, at Thought Pyramid, Ikoyi, Lagos.

Also of significant interest is that one of the works from the tour has been acquired for the new Shyllon Museum at Pan Atlantic University, Ajah, Lagos.

In 2010, Layiwola, a granddaughter of Benin monarch, Oba Akenzua II (1933-1979), showed Benin, a solo exhibition held at Main Auditorium Gallery of the University of Lagos, (UNILAG), Yaba, Lagos. The show, among other works, included a sculptural assemblage of terracotta pieces cut in square and titled, Theatre of War. The exhibition, which featured many archival photographs, accompanied by a book, recaptured the infamous Benin Punitive Expedition of 1897.

Nine years after, Layiwola has brought into the Nigerian art appreciation landscape, another trajectory of native content. The show, which began in June at J.K Ade Ajayi Auditorium Gallery and Lagoon Gallery, Creative Arts, University of Lagos, is a celebration of adire, the iconic native dyed fabrics, indigenous to Southwest Nigeria.

Designs peculiar to adire, particularly when they are in shades and hues of blues are commonly used across generations of indigenous textile artists. For Indigo Reimagined, appropriating adire into functional objects, wall pieces and installations expands the scope in appreciation of the ancient hand-made clothing design.

In thematic contexts, quite a number of the exhibits delve into metaphor of Yoruba idiom such as Atewo lara; owo eni kii tan ni je, while another series highlight cultural value like aso ibora. Also, the artist’s love for Oja Oje, in Ibadan, one of the oldest fabric markets in Southwest, gets quite a number of attention in some of the works.

An iconic name in native textile sales, Oje Market, which is also known as a centre for selling of aso-oke, gets an expansive space as an installation titled Oje Market Day. In fabric patchwork, the installation celebrates diverse designs and aesthetics of adire.

The analogy of strength in protective spiritual realm comes in Aso-Ibora Series of polyester resin materials. The Yoruba believe that a man’s strength lies in his non-visible power of which ‘aso-ibora’ (protective clothing) represents, perhaps, in the spiritual realm.

Also of great depth in critical appreciation is Stamping History, an installation with a sea of motifs in ‘foam templates of variable sizes’ stretched with cubic style top. When the newly built Shyllon Museum opens in October, Stamping History most likely will be among the exhibits on display, along hundreds of works donated by the founder of the museum.

Prince Yemisi Shyllon, collector and founder of the new museum, according to Layiwola, has ‘acquired Standing History’.

Director at Shyllon Museum, Jess Castellote, during a chat, confirmed the acquisition of Stamping History by Prince Shyllon. Details of the opening of the museum and possibly, featuring of Layiwola’s installation during the museum’s October opening, Castellote said, “are still being worked out.”

With more than 2,000 polyester, the installation celebrates what the artist describes as over 30 years of adire design history. Highlighting social change, Stamping History also explains how “new materials and motifs” over the decades have become part of the adire trajectory, even in contemporary production.

The artist and the collector are no strangers in collaboration at promoting art production and appreciation. From 2011, Omoba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) supported several editions of the Layiwola-led Unilag Art Entrepreneurship Workshop at Creative Arts Department, University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos.

Facilitators included resource persons within and outside Nigeria such as African-American artist Brett Cook, Sam Ovraiti, Ibe Ananaba, Ato Arinze, and Ariyo Oguntimehin and wife of an American diplomat in Nigeria Kathleen Stafford.

A concept deeply rooted in tradition as Stamping History, justifiably, has found the right artist in Layiwola whose family lineage cuts across two cultures. Layiwola notes that the choice of materials has a link with history just as her “art is inspired by my dual heritage.”

Being of Yoruba and Edo, Layiwola boasts of “sitting on the shoulders of one culture and peeping into the other.”

However, she also places value on the future by surrendering to “ordinary and simple things that continue to inspire.”

Apart from the value in art appreciation that gets popular attention, the installations, she explains also bring attention to the critical areas of process in creating art.

“Instead, they redirect our gaze at the very process of ‘art as art’ in their own right; in a sense, the process, methodology, and labour of making art are itself conceived of as art,” excerpts from the catalogue of the exhibition states. “This conceptual, yet tactical, engagement with cloth compels the viewer to look at the often neglected but important aspects involved in the process of this long-standing tradition of indigo dyeing.”

Layiwola, a Professor of Art History, is the Head of the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos. She is Vice President (President-elect) of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA), USA; and member of various distinguished associations.