Sunday 27 June 2021

Prof Layiwola as 2021 LSA Distinguished Scholar Award

Prof Peju Layiwola. Pic: c/o Adepeju Layiwola.

By Ganiyu Jimoh (Jimga)

The Lagos Studies Association (LSA) has announced Peju Layiwola, Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Lagos, as winner of the 2021 LSA Distinguished Scholar Award. 

Previous recipients of the award include Kristin Mann, Ayodeji Olukoju, and Jonathan Haynes. 

The Award will be formally presented to her at the closing ceremony of the virtual LSA 2021 Conference on June 26 (yesterday).

"It is my pleasure, privilege and honour to nominate Professor Peju Layiwola of the Department of Creative Arts, the University of Lagos for the 2021 LSA Distinguished Scholar Award," Ayobola Kekere-Ekun (PhD Student at the University of Johannesburg/Lecturer at the University of Lagos) wrote. "I first met Professor Layiwola as a newly enrolled undergraduate student of the Department of Creative Arts in 2009. I went into my first ever interactions with her trailed by the whispers of her reputation as a highly capable force of nature and several years later, I can boldly say that while said rumours were true, they did not begin to scratch the surface of this incredible scholar. For over two decades, Professor Layiwola has gracefully donned a dizzying array of mantles. She has and continues to be a teacher, scholar, artist, administrator, mentor, activist, and collaborator. Upon the completion of her M.A. in Visual Art History at the University of Ibadan, Professor Layiwola began her illustrious career at the University of Benin. She soon moved to the University of Lagos where she has spent the majority of her career, attaining her PhD in 2004 and her professorship in 2017." 


The oeuvre of Professor Layiwola’s scholarship as an art historian can broadly be divided into two clusters. The first is her dedication to exploring Benin and to a lesser degree, Yoruba artistic legacies. Her research unpacks relevant and timely postcolonial themes such as memory and cultural imagery, repatriation and restitution, and gender and cultural heterodoxy. The restitution question remains a thorny and complex issue in contemporary Africa, the solution to which continues to be hotly debated. Professor Layiwola’s calls for the return of looted Benin artefacts and her contributions to this body of knowledge have been of grave import to the intellectual discourse surrounding the issue. She positions the looting of the Benin Kingdom in 1897 as an act of violent commodification, a perspective that contributes significantly to a body of knowledge contending with pressing issue of post-colonial cultural identity. She also highlights how the absence of these objects creates a form of ‘cultural amnesia’, a subtler, but no less devastating form of violence in its own right that transforms the rightful heirs to a culture into strangers dependent on second-hand knowledge of their heritage. 

The second cluster focuses on exploring largely utilitarian and deceptively mundane craft traditions connected to her dual Benin and Lagosian heritage. Professor Layiwola’s research positions the ‘ordinary’ within complicated historical and socio-cultural contexts, uncovering the inherent richness and density of everyday traditions. By intellectualising the study of artistic traditions often broadly dismissed, she has played an instrumental role in reclaiming the importance of practices and traditions that many would argue are also undermined and dismissed as ‘women’s work’.  Her research highlights how the threads of daily customs feed into an overall tapestry of empathetically considering one’s history and identity. Professor Layiwola’s approach to scholarship, in my opinion, exemplifies the inherent spirit of one of my favourite quotes, “the personal is political”.

Her dogged dedication to rigorous scholarship makes her successful practice as a studio artist all the more remarkable. Her artistic practice is characterised by a flexible, multi-disciplinary approach and a particular affinity for working with metal that situates craft-based techniques within the weighty themes she unpacks in her research. Her art also emphasises the process of production. This approach underscores how the often time-consuming techniques she works with can be read as art forms distinct from, yet connected to the resulting art objects she produces. Till date, there are over nineteen exhibitions to her credit home and abroad in prestigious venues such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, Abuja, Kunsthaus Dresden Municipal Gallery of Arts, Dresden, Goethe Institute, Lagos, Raw Spot Gallery, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, and the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of art, Lagos. Critical essays exploring her artistic practice have been penned by authors such as Antawan Bryan, Barbara Winston Blackmun and Tobenna Okwuosa. She has also participated in several residencies including the 2017 Goethe Institute Grantee, Artist-in-Residence program and the 2018 Residency for Artist and Writers (RAW), Arts of Africa and the Global South Research Programme.

It is also important to highlight Professor Layiwola’s commitment to community service. Her non-profit initiative, the Women and Youth Art Foundation was established in 1994 to facilitate economic empowerment by providing training in arts and crafts production to youth, women and disenfranchised groups. The foundation democratised and optimised access to its lessons on craft production by creating and distributing DVDs of tutorials. Over three hundred thousand copies were disseminated within seven years. Through strategic partnerships and funding from various institutions, the Women and Youth Art foundation have also been privileged to widen the scope of its community outreach programs.  In 2012, a partnership with the Bronx Museum led to the Foundation hosting the Hilary Clinton Smartpower project in Lagos. The project facilitated a series of workshops and a community-supported public art project at the University of Lagos, led by American artist, Brett Cook. 

With the aid of the US Consulate Small Grant awarded in 2017, the Foundation spearheaded a series of art workshops and sensitisation schemes concentrated in sixteen secondary schools in Lagos State. The project aimed to bring an awareness of craft production as a well as the viability of creative arts as an area of study to youth who are less likely to have access to this information due to socio-economic barriers.

In addition to a career marked by participation in over forty workshops and conferences, and close to three dozen published articles and book chapters, Professor Layiwola also has taught in many institutions including the University of Benin, the University of Lagos, the University of Ibadan and the University of Arkansas, for twenty-nine years. Professor Layiwola continues to enjoy a well-earned reputation as an educator dedicated to excellence and fostering a sense of genuine curiosity in all her students. It would not be amiss to assert that she has an enviable career by many standards. Based on this meritorious track record, I hereby nominate Professor Peju Layiwola for the 2021 LSA Distinguished Scholar Award. An honour so well deserved would be an important signifier of respect and acknowledgement for a woman who continues to relentlessly pave roads where none existed.

Awards and Honours;

Peju Layiwola – the 25th President of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA) 2021.

In November 2004, the first-year students of the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos,a attended an art seminar at the university guest houses. It was the first formal academic gathering for the students of that set – lectures had not resumed at the period. The seminar, titled: Revisiting History Through the Arts, was attended by the crème de la crème of art practices and scholarship in Nigeria. Though we could not catch up with the panelists’ discussions, meeting great Nigerian artists and scholars we have only read about in high school art textbooks was a great privilege and exposition. It was a great source of inspiration for all of us. 

During the proceedings, I noticed one charming, beautifully dressed, charismatic woman who was the conference’s convener – Princess Adepeju Layiwola. Little did I know then that she would be my teacher and mentor from undergraduate to the Ph.D. level! The ten-year period under her tutelage and mentorship is long enough to know, understand, emulate, and even assume her astute personality.

As one of the protegees of this great amazon, I feel honored and proud to announce Prof Layiwola’s recent achievement as the President of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA) 2021! She is the first resident African scholar to occupy this post since its first gathering in 1968 and official founding in 1980.

Princess Adepeju Layiwola was born five decades ago into the prominent Olowu family of Idumagbo, Lagos and the royal family of Akenzua in Benin. Her mother, the daughter of Oba Akenzua II (1899 - 1978), is a prominent artist and art teacher who is the first female to cast in Bronze in Benin. As the great great -granddaughter of Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (1857 – 1914) in whose reign the Benin empire was raided by the British (1897) and invaluable artifacts carted away in their thousands, it is not surprising that Benin arts and cultural heritage become central to Layiwola’s artistic and scholarly preoccupation.

For over two decades, since 1991, Layiwola has been a lecturer in the University system in Nigeria. She started at the University of Benin (1991 -1995) and since 2002 to the present at the University of Lagos. Owing to her commitment, dedication, and astute professional and scholarly engagement, she has risen steadily to the peak of her academic career as a Full Professor in 2017.

Layiwola has initiated various academic and extra-curricular activities in the Department of Creative Arts where she served as Head of Department, which include: curriculum review of all courses in Music, Theatre Arts and Visual Arts which had not been done since the inception of the Department in 1997; established the Departmental Journal; proposed the establishment of a University of Lagos Arts and Craft Centre - a project which has come to fruition with the building of a complex funded from a Tetfund grant; attracted a total of 4.5 million Naira Grant to the Department of Creative Arts, from the Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation in the years 2011, 2012, 2014 for organizing Art training workshops for over 600 participants.; negotiated the painting of the iconic Unilag mural, ‘Nurturing Peace, People and Ideas’ on the façade of the Department of Creative Arts by African American artist Brett Cook through the Hilary Clinton SmART project, Sponsored by the US Department of State, 2012; and facilitated a $10,000 grant for the visual unit of the Department from ASHLUXE fashion Brand, 2021.

It is germane to note that Prof Layiwola is one of the few academics who can conveniently straddle the broadly different but connected artistic practices and scholarship spaces. She is “a jack of these two trades and  master of both” with over forty highly-rated and extensively cited scholarly publications; more than twenty-three local and international exhibition appearances in Vienna, Austria, Chicago, Portland-Maine, Philadelphia, Washington DC, USA, Portstewart, and Armagh, Northern Ireland, Dundalk, Republic of Ireland, Dresden, Germany, Madrid, Spain, Paris, France, South Africa and in several places within Nigeria; and over fifty-one local and international conferences, workshops and art residency participations.

In addition, she is a recipient of several research grants, including the Centre for Black African Art and Civilization Research grant (2010); International Visitors leadership Programme 2011, Goethe Grant, Dusseldorf 2017, the US State Department smARTpower project grant Initiative by the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, 2012; the University of Cambridge Travel Grant (2014); US Alumni Exchange Award, 2018: US Consulate Small Grant (2017) International Paul Getty Travel Grant (2010, 2011, 2013, and 2018); CAA- Getty Global Conversations 2020, the University of Lagos Central Research Fund (2015 and 2019); Terra Foundation for American Art grant; and the Lagos African Cluster Center research grant of the University of Bayreuth (2020) to mention a few.

Peju Layiwola has taught as a visiting professor in other universities aside from the University of Lagos, recently being at the School of Art, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, USA (2019), where she received the Governor’s Ambassador of Goodwill for the State of Arkansas award. She was also nominated Tyson Scholar of the Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas, USA, 2019.

As an international scholar/artist of repute who is also sensitive to the significance of empowering the youth and women as the basis for socio-economic transformation in Nigeria, Peju Layiwola founded, in 1994, the Women and Youth Art Foundation. Since then, the Centre has trained numerous women, high school students, and disadvantaged groups in various arts and crafts production. She also runs the post-Covid Art platform, Masterart classes in Lagos.

For me, to capture the zeitgeist of Peju Layiwola’s personality through her commitments and achievements, I would say that “she is born great, through her hard work and doggedness she is achieving greatness and greatness is being bestowed on her”, she is indeed a rare gem!

Congratulations Prof!

Ganiyu Jimoh (Jimga), Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos.

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