Indigo Reimagined

Join the Panel discussion
Let Us Dye Together:
Imagining Indigo Beyond Colour in the Art of Peju Layiwola

The 4th Annual Lagos Studies Association Conference
Lagos, Nigeria
June 27-29, 2019



Clothing has always held a fascination for me since my wedding in 1994 when specially woven asooke made by my husband’s family were gifted to me.   Ever since, I have taken pride in the sartorial traditions of my in-laws who hail from Iseyin in the north of Oyo known for cloth weaving.  My husband, a lover of woven fabrics and adire, aroused my interest in this rich cultural heritage of the Yoruba people. Being a recently re assimilated member of the Yoruba community, having been raised in Benin City, I became involved in buying old fabrics that had a long history in Ibadan.  During this period, I met Mrs Abiona a renowned cloth trader who for several years sold fabrics on the University of Ibadan campus- a campus which has become my home since 1993. I was introduced to Oje market at Ibadan known for asooke clothing and rare fabrics. I will visit the market to buy materials which were fashioned into various attires that elicited wonderful responses when I wore them.  Adire cloth also inspired my earlier metal and paper prints in 2002.

My interest in cloth has a fairly long history having been groomed by a mother who was largely a costumier. My mother, Princess Elisabeth Olowu took delight in designing costumes for brides and grooms. Her mother, Queen Ederaro Akenzua (wife of Oba Akenzua II, King of Benin 1933-1978) was also gifted.  She designed and embroidered her husband’s handkerchiefs and strung beads for his regalia.  My mother will take pride in dressing these couples, and when age began to tell on her, she resigned from the tedious art of sculpting and bronze casting into this fairly sedentary and less cumbersome creative activity. It would be impossible to tell the large number of couples that she adorned with the elaborate royal dress she designed.  When later in 2014, I conceived of a public art project, Whose Centenary?  I brought to bear these skills I had acquired from her in designing the costumes for the performers.  My mother could make incredibly beautiful costumes from paper.  She will make coronets from rolled paper and papier mache.  She had taught this craft in secondary school students since the 1960s.  Several of the things I learnt from her, including the making of these beads inspired my teachings at the University of Lagos.

In 1994, I shot a video on teaching tie dye and batik to youth under the platform of a budding organisation, the Women and Youth Art Foundation which I founded at Ibadan. This was a way of passing on skills to the underserved in society.  This Video, shot on analog, became really popular among the unemployed youth and students of the University of Ibadan. It became necessary to digitalise the production to improve on the quality and make it more accessible through DVDs.  Within a space of seven years, along with other DVDs, we sold well over 300,000 copies across Nigeria and Africa.  When in 2013, the Women and Youth Art Foundation office moved office to Lagos, by some divine intervention, it was located in the heart of adire making at the Akerele area of Surulere. 

My journey through this world of fabrics and body adornment have led me through several obscure markets.  In 2009, along with a curator, Barbara Plankensteiner we made several trips to Oranyan market, Ibadan known for trading in old items yielded exquisite fabrics for a lace exhibition she later curated in Vienna, Austria and Nigeria. My writings about cloth and pedagogy became intertwined.

This exhibition revisits a popular indigenous clothing tradition and highlights the multicultural meanings inscribed on textile produced for a variety of purposes. The range of works in this show are not limited to the dyed textile as a site of adornment and signification.  They probe the overall architecture of production, thereby compelling us to look at the often-neglected but important aspects involved in the process of fabric designing.

Oje Market day, Cloth (Patchwork) Variable size, Work in progress, 2018-2019©Peju Layiwola
Stamping History, Foam blocks Installation, 2018-2019,©Peju Layiwola