Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Lagos, Peju Layiwola, has been announced winner of the 2021 Lagos Studies Association (LSA) Distinguished Scholar Award. The Award will be formally presented to her at the closing ceremony of the virtual LSA 2021 Conference on June 26. The 2021 LSA Distinguished Scholar Award nomination was made by Ayobola Kekere-Ekun (PhD Student at the University of Johannesburg/ Lecturer at the University of Lagos). Announcing the nomination, Kekere-Ekun stated: “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. 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.” According to Kekere-Ekun, 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 secondhand 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’.