Art and the Restitution Question

By Sola Olorunyomi (curator)

Featuring a colloquium and
a Traveling Art Exhibition by Peju Layiwola
Date: 8 April-30 May, 2010
Time: 2pm.
Colloquium starts at 2.00pm
Exhibition opens at 5pm on the 8th of April
Venue: Main Auditorium Gallery,
University of Lagos, Nigeria.
The artist-artist scholar, Peju Layiwola, a Lecturer in the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos will be showing her recent works in a solo exhibition entitled Art and the Restitution Question at the Main auditorium gallery of the University of Lagos, Nigeria. The exhibition will be declared open by HRH, Prince Edun Akenzua, the Enogie of Obazuwa. Subsequently after this opening, the exhibition will travel from Lagos through, Ibadan, Abuja and Benin till the end of the year. The exhibition will hold in Ibadan from 19 August to 19 September at the Museum of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. The Edo State Government will be hosting the show later at the Benin Venue and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Abuja. This exhibition comes up to mark the 50th year anniversary of Nigeria. provokes you to step into a triple-layer of discursive event as seen through the exhibition of the artist, Peju Layiwola, a colloquium and publication by nine scholars drawn from across the globe on the vexed issue of art-stripping and the restitution question in relation to Benin. refers to the British 'Punitive' Expedition and also presents an artist's impression of this cultural rape of Benin. It seeks to recontextualise the event of the invasion, during which the nascent British imperialists sacked an ancient government and its monarch, Ovonramwen (ruled c.1888-1897), and looted its, largely bronze and ivory, art works over a schism that seems more orchestrated than real. Till date, families from the old kingdom still speak of their losses, in human and material terms, yet our world speaks tongue-in-cheek.

Over the years, Peju Layiwola has been experimenting with forms and media ranging from terracotta, copper, bronze and gold, among others. The current exhibition could as well be described as her most ambitious; at once affective and deeply contemplative, it arrives with a 244-page publication and catalogue with 154 colour illustrations. The pathos of the Omo N'Oba's foreword in the catalogue is unmistakable: "The year 1897 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 my great grandfather, Oba Ovonramwen's Palace."

Such rendering also runs through Peju Layiwola, herself a scion of the Benin kingdom; A granddaughter of Oba Akenzua II (1933-1979) and a daughter of the sculptress, Princess Elizabeth Olowu. Early sneak reviews suggest that, besides its intellectual content, this effort could equally be read as an exercise in filial cultural intervention, something not just of a professional obligation but an anxiety to fill an autobiographical void. Through this cultural action for freedom, the past seems to be indicting the present, as one off-spring of a brutish encounter is beginning to throw barbs of indictment at past abuse of power. Speaking in a tone quite similar to HRM, Peju in relation to the stolen artefacts, remarks sharply that: "They who once enjoyed the splendour of the palace are now trapped behind glass wall in foreign lands."

The exhibition opens with a colloquium on the issue of restitution and the repatriation of cultural property to Nigeria. Speakers are Professor Folarin Shyllon, Former Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan and Professor Ademola Popoola, Dean, Faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. The chair of the colloquium is Professor Akin Oyebode, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos

This historical exhibition is expected to run for about two months to enable as many primary and secondary schools organize study tours. Workbooks for students will be made available for free at the venue.

The accompanying publication features essays by
Kwame Opoku, Commentator on Cultural Affairs.
Folarin Shyllon, Former Dean of Law, University of Ibadan, Nigeria,

Professor Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA,

Professor Freida High, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA,

Mimi Wolford, Director, Mbari Institute for Contemporary African Art, Washington DC, USA ,

Professor Mabel Evwierhoma, University of Abuja, Nigeria,

Benson Eluma, Cambridge University, UK,
Akinwale Onipede, University of Lagos. Nigeria,
Dr Victor Osaro Edo, University of Ibadan, Nigeria,

Dr Peju Layiwola, University of Lagos, Nigeria,
Dr Sola Olorunyomi, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, co-editor and curator.

This project is supported by The Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), the Edo State Government, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja, the University of Lagos and the University of Ibadan.

For more information, visit

Sola Olorunyomi (curator)