BY TAJUDEEN SOWOLE
Having devoted nearly 20 years to a cause, Peju Layiwola looks forward to using Nigeria’s 50th Independence Day celebrations to showcase her ancestral link to global cultural objects.
Called Benin 1897.com: Art and the Restitution Question, the show will feature paintings and installations.
To be declared open by HRH, Edun Akenzua, the Enogie of Obazuwa, the show runs from April 8 to 30 at University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka and would continue in Ibadan and Benin till the end of the year.
Layiwola, grand-daughter of Oba Akenzua II (1933-1979) and daughter of sculptress, Princess Elizabeth Olowu, says, “they, who once enjoyed the splendour of the palace, are now trapped behind glass walls in foreign lands.”
The year 1897, she recalls, “means much to me and my people. It was the year the British invaded our land and forcefully removed thousands of our bronze and ivory works from Oba Ovonramwen’s Palace, my great grandfather.”
She may not possess the skill of Hollywood’s John Rambo to break the glass walls of the so called “universal museum” and rescue the objects, but she has got art to give the captors enough sleepless nights.
In such works as the installation, Unpainted Calabash, an assemblage of large gourds; 1897.com, inlaid copper, brass, wood, animal horn, and paper; Long live the King, painted version of the calabash series; Layiwola adds art as a resilient medium against modern day imperialism.
And just in case you are not seeing enough of the visual art venom, “a colloquium and publication by nine scholars drawn from across the globe” is part of the tour.
Layiwola, in recent times, has added her voice to this cause at a global event, which had her ancestral subject in focus. The event was the closing ceremony of the exhibition, Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria held in Chicago, U.S. two years ago, where she delivered two lectures.
On return to Nigeria, she revealed that, in the US there were several protests against the persistent refusal to return Benin works held in foreign museums.
According to her, “the protests in Chicago brought about a decline in the number of art forms showing at the Art Institute.”
Layiwola argues that similar pressure groups can be set up in Nigeria. She notes that collaboration between Nigerian government and Benin Royal family, is all that is needed to bring the antiquities back to Nigeria.
Strengthening that cause back home is her effort to take 1897.com on tour. “After the Lagos show, is “Ibadan from August 19 to September 19 at the Museum of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Oyo State.” And at a date yet to be announced, Edo State government will be hosting the show”, she explains.
The message, she adds, is also important for the youths, as such, the show will run for about two months, to enable as many primary and secondary schools pupils and students to partake in it. Workbooks for students, she notes will be made available for free at the venue. And in the painting, Long Live the King, the young ones are not left out, because it’s child friendly.
Supporting the project are; The Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), Edo State government, the universities of Lagos and Ibadan, and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja.