Lagos / Ibandan (NGA)

Peju Layiwola

* 1967 in Benin Edo State, Nigeria

lives and works in Lagos and Ibandan, Nigeria

In her installations and sculptures, Peju Layiwola engages with the way in which traditions and historical objects are handled. She is a descendent of Oba Akenzua II of the Edo Kingdom of Benin (1933-1978), who fought for the return of the Benin bronzes, which were looted by the British colonizers, and the daughter of the first Benin bronze sculptress—the craft had previously been exclusively reserved for men. Layiwola’s fascination with the Kingdom of Benin and the Edo culture, her feminist approach, and the affinity to the looted bronzes are the starting points of her long-term project Benin “Art and the Restitution Question”. Layiwola studied metal design at the University of Benin and art at the University of Ibadan, where she received her doctorate in 2004. She currently teaches art and art history and is head of the Creative Arts faculty of the University of Lagos. Her works, which have won numerous prizes, are shown in solo and group exhibitions in Nigeria and abroad, and her texts have appeared in various international publications.



The work Columns of Memory explores the expansions of meaning that objects can experience when being cited and reworked in art. By combining replicas of classical Benin objects with her own painterly and sculptural statements, Peju Layiwola makes explicit the absence of the artefacts plundered during the notorious “punitive expedition” of the British Empire in 1897 against the Oba (king) of the Kingdom of Benin (today’s Benin City, the capital of Edo State in Nigeria).

Columns of Memory is part of a series of works related to “looting” and “restitution.” The return of two bronzes to the Oba of Benin in 2014 by a descendant of one of the members of the expedition troops that plundered Benin City in 1897 is an attempt to remedy an historical injustice. Many of the Benin sculptures are still in European and American museums – more than 4,000 are outside of Nigeria, 10 per cent of which alone in Dresden – some of which argue for keeping the stolen works in Western museums. Columns of Memory opens up a more conciliatory understanding of history and offers new perspectives on this problematic heritage and identity. The works reference the iconography of the classical Benin objects and seek to establish a connection between the old idiom of Benin art and its contemporary interpretation. In the traditions of the old Kingdom of Benin, the Oyo bird stood for the herald of fate; the bell was used to summon the ancestors during religious ceremonies. They are thus important picture signs, but at the same accessible in a new history and the commemoration of this historical return in 2014. The columns symbolize a new historiography connecting the past with the present.