PEJU LAYIWOLA’S “INDIGO REIMAGINED”
A REVIEW BY LANRE BAMIDELE
Let me state from the beginning that the title of the book INDIGO REIMAGINED is an exhibition installation that is curated by Peju Layiwola between 2018-2019. The installation is described as a product of overlapping and variegated spaces and networks, spatial, conceptual, aesthetic, cultural and social, familial and personal, that Layiwola has moved through in the course of her artistic career. We encounter the exhibition from 13 different perspectives in this book edited by Patrick Oloko. The question is, why has the exhibition become a book? The editor says: “the idea is to generate reactions; reviews, contestations or affirmations that would put Peju Layiwola’s productions in a more critical spotlight”. This is what the editor has done in producing the book.
In the appreciative introduction titled “Blues and beyond”, which invariably is the longest chapter in the book, we read of an introduction where 4 birds are killed with one stone as implied from the sub-titles in that chapter. It is a deftly woven essay on the artist and her works, sub-titled as Circularity and Sense in the Layiwolean Oeuvre. then a subtle lecture on why exhibit art as in “Curious Creativities: Articulating the Ordinary, Concretising the Ephemeral”, a third one on the role of women in producing Adire and the fourth is a definition of what reimagine means as “To ‘reimagine’ is to recall or focus attention on the antecedents of a presence, to trace history by invoking its continuity; to unify the past and present for a purpose” and a summary of what each paper contains as views on the exhibition by professionals and art connoisseurs who encountered the exhibition at physical settings in gallery spaces or as a virtual event in media platforms.
With Tobenna Okwuosa’s essay on “Adire and the Progression of Peju Layiwola’s Artistic Logic” after we have been out of the exhibition and we start to appraise the aesthetic experiences in the massive and skillfully arranged installations, we come out to dissect the philosophy of imagination in Peju Layiwola’s work. Okwuosa traces her artistic imagination to a plethora of influences, such as geneaology, heritage, school training, and tutelage, under several mentors who serve as the wind beneath her wings.
In other words, the uniqueness of Peju Layiwola’s art is anchored on tradition and individual talent. When you have the kind of background, Peju Layiwola has we conclude by saying Omo jogun ona (The child inherits Art). It is the artistic imagination that blossoms in different forms in her work. Peju Layiwola learned from her mentors cutting her teeth well to develop her own unique style.
In The art of T.S. Eliot – Helen Gardner, talks of the “Auditory imagination of T.S. Eliot, in the same way Okwuosa speaks of “visual and artistic imagination of Peju Layiwola. It is the structure of thought of this imagination that she refers to as artistic logic.
It is that imaginative authority that we call originality of style, not only as we see in Adire exhibition, but even in her earlier exhibitions. It is an impressive essay for those working on the artist and her work.
Phoenix Savage, in her essay on “The multivocalities of Indigo,” traces the journey of indigo from continent to continent as an agricultural plant for trade, as a plant that is tendered with care as it helps in the search for a colour that seduces. The nostalgia that Indigo evokes in Savage is historically described in terms of the use and abuse of the plant as it affects war, trade, and slave labour as recounted from the South Carolina history of the plant. Indigo as a plant affected trade policy and the reappraisal of its worth in South Carolina and various countries and continents is rendered in a poetic prose that shows the journey of indigo in its various vicissitudes: as its price is sometimes overpriced or down priced as the case may be in the quality of the leaves produced.
In Janine Sytsma’s “essay Peju Layiwola’s Indigo Markets for a Shifting Geopolitical Sphere,” we read of an essay that is probably inspired by Walter Benjamin’s view on the state of art in an industrial age – or Jean Duvignaud on Art Today. It is an idea that Ayo Adeduntan fully developed later in this collection. However, in this essay, we have different dialects of a common language, and that common language here is indigo blue, as in cloth and clothing in adire eleko, adire alabela, adire oniko, adire alabere and how technology has affected production and quality of “indigo cloth.
The resilience of adire clothing industry in the face of increased competition from imported mass-produced fabrics in style and design is generally appraised. We are somehow worried when she says, “60 years after independence, the fate of adire is uncertain. This is due to what she noticed as the fluctuation in the availability of locally produced Indigo dye cloth. That observation opens up a lot of issues on why locally produced Indigo dye cloth is not predominantly seen even in places like Oje market. Issues such as “artist and patronage”, and the contestations between the production process of high culture art and popular culture art seem not considered before making that observation. The experiment in technology and iconographic design is leading to various experiments in aesthetic experiences worldwide as we observe from the recent Adire festival in Vienna, Austria, shows that the fate of Adire is bright as even many culturally mindful Nigerians patronize the adire market as well as the general public buy adire in whatever design and material that is used.
In Rhapsody in “Blue: Trad style: “Pat Oyelola picks on the exhibition with ecstatic praise for the hands that produce indigo blue adire cloth. For her, the process of dyeing and making adire, the compositional design of every item, is expressed in the language of myth, nature, industry, and artistry of women involved in adire industry. You hear the rhapsody by/from a careful, patient, participant observer at a session of every activity involved in making adire”.
“How many hands does it take to produce an adire wrapper ready to be worn? How many operations do those hands perform from start to finish? The aladire molds, stokes, crushes, sprinkles, scops, stirs, dips, hangs, scrapes off the starch resist, or pulls out the raffia. The tailor sows, the finisher beats with a mallet to produce a sheen. The potter digs, bends, molds, rolls, coils, pushes, pulls, smoothes, presses, squeezes, carries, stacks and ignites”.
That rhapsody catches the attention of anyone who has been involved in the process of making adire cloth. For me, at an experiential level and for many too. Pat Oyelola’s rhapsody involves all of us in a more traditional poetics form…as in Adeboye Babalola’s ……
Jean Borgatti’s essay “Adire in the Yoruba Social and Cultural Imaginaries” is the slimmest in the collection, but as they say, “it is ata kere ijadun”. The essay discusses cloth use and cloth metaphor in Yoruba social and cultural imaginaries. She says, “Textile helps to define the concept of humanity and culture: The essay seems to me a mapping out of research issues on cloth use and cloth metaphors in a universal sense and for followers of Peju Layiwola on her recent virtual conference on Telling Textile Tales across the world there is a lot that is suggestive of research engagement be it costume and fashion from social anthropology perspective.
In Charles Gore and Paula Callus, “Textiles as Narratives of Gendered Labour,” we come to a paper that gives an account of the exhibition Indigo Reimagined as a full performance object reported in the styles of an art editor or art journalist. Everything is accounted for in appraising and reporting Indigo Reimagined in the exhibition gallery. Charles Gore and Paula Callus “essay reminds or tells us how to read meanings into every bit of activities that go on at an exhibition venue, they urge that “Each artwork merits considered contemplation and appreciation of the visual aesthetics of shape and forms linked to gendered narratives of labour, art making, memory and history that they richly articulate, allude to and comment upon.”
The entirety of artworks within the gallery space is engaged meticulously as a concerted ensemble. The language and style of explaining every plate in the installation fluctuates between the journalese and the academic trope. The paper, in its style of discussion, appropriates very well the role of the critics in cultural mediation in high-brow and popular performing arts: it is, for me, a highly rated essay as an example of a write-up for a would-be art critic.
Ayo Adedutan’s essay, captioned “Indigo Dyehard: Incursion, Survival, and Contestation,” discusses the wax, the wane, and the war to stay afloat or alive of indigo blue adire. It is a well-expanded view of what Walter Benjamin talks about on the state of the art in an industrial age. This essay talks about quality in artistry, talks of skills and finesse and the aesthetic shifts of buyers of materials produced, and the producer’s methods to survive in a competitive industry such as the clothing industry. He talks about durability and permanence in the value of works produced by traditional artists as against those produced by synthetic dye artists.
Lekan Balogun’s adaptation in theory and practice in literary studies is brought here as a pean to Peju Layiwola’s imagination and experience, as we say Omo na loju ona. (Peju has an eye for design). As she builds on a well-established tradition and blends indigenous textile technology in production, in craftsmanship that brings about her own originality as different from mere copycat. For the exhibition, adaptation is defined in the paper as recycling, reinventive, and recovery of materials in a new context, and so it is a dialogue between technologists to suit whatever fashion is in vogue.
In the collection, the most engaging, the most philosophical, and cerebral readings of Indigo Reimagined as an exhibition is Ogunfunwa’s “Riro Aro Tayo Oju Ode: Indigo as Creativity and Reality.” The essay seems to be anchored on Susanne K. Langer’s view that “all very great artistic conceptions have something of mysticism with the beholder” This seems true of Ogunfunwa’s essay. It starts with a cerebral intercultural understanding of the word “Indigo” and reminds us of T.L Austins What to do with words: The essay explains or suggests an aspect of Peju Layiwola’s personality that seems hidden to us in the concept of the “wild woman” in this case of mysticism as an artistic import of Peju Layiwola in Indigo blue. Indigo as colour is explained from the literal to the philosophical in the concept of “wild woman” in India, South East Asia, and Yoruba cultural philosophy and colour psychology.
Odun Orimolade’s “Textile Architectonics” as Creative Influence in indigo Reimagined” is a power-packed essay on the psychoanalytical and semiological understanding of Peju Layiwola’s art. It is deeply steeped in the signification, denotation, and connotation of the signs and symbols in her work and more predominantly in Indigo Reimagined.
In psychoanalysis of art and the self in Peju Layinwola’s Art, Odun Orimolade sees the filial bond of mother and child and the matrimonial bond of Peju and Dele in what she refers to as the interwoven nature of warp and weft thread in textile production of aso ofi. The essay is an interesting read on the performance of proverbs in textile design in Yoruba, it is indeed a full exposition on the logic of signs and symbols, a la Susanne K. Langer in Philosophy in a New Key. A study in the symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art.
Emmanuelle Spiesse “Breaking the Silence of One Colour”; is a conversation with Peju Layiwola. It is in the context of this essay or conversation that one can understand the import of Nengi Omuku’s essay on “Adire as Peju Layiwola’s Love letter”. As a Love letter, Peju’s self-love for and in adire is a passionate engagement. Adire, as a love letter presents Peju Layiwola as an advocate for its possession by all and sundry. There is internal satisfaction in art and craft of adire to the degree that Peju Layiwola instituted WyArt Foundation, in which training in the art of adire and other artworks becomes an empowerment studio/forum for youth and women where to love art making is to love adire in is various methods and production techniques.
The contribution of Emmanuelle Spiesse is a useful one on how Peju Layiwola moved from metalwork to cloth and clothing; why Peju has always exhibited in the University gallery? It reveals a lot of issues about Peju Layiwola as a teacher, researcher, and activist. After reading the whole book, there are issues that suggest we need to have more of such conversation with Peju Layiwola on what psychological value she derives from her engagement in art and craft, from Ogunfunwa’s essay we want to ask if she is a mystic, from other essays we want to know which school of art – expressionist, impressionist, idealist, experimentalist, or the like does she belong or fashioning for herself in these days that every art and artist is labeled with an “ism”
The exhibition shows Peju Layiwola as a drum major for Adire cloth and clothing as her recent virtual conference on “Telling Textiles Tales Tails” continues to raise her research zeal on fashion style across the world. The many perspectives from which the exhibition is thought about in the book would certainly have been a pleasure to Peju Layiwola as the curator of an art exhibition that has brought out a very dispassionate discussion of works.
At the end of all these, what do we make of Indigo Reimagined as a book and not as an exhibition event? First, I want to thank and praise the editor for achieving the goal of presenting the works of Peju Layiwola in a more critical spotlight, as we see in the 13 chapters. The different readings of the exhibition and the interpretations of the installation could be likened to the story of the 3 blind men in their encounter with an elephant. The one who touched the tusk says the elephant is like a rope. The one who touched the ear said the elephant is like a fan, and the other who touched the trunk says the elephant is like a wall. This is the impression we have of how the interpretations of some plates in the installation such as:
- Even Mother’s Wrapper Couldn’t Cover.
- Ibadan dun
- Ojo oja oje
- Stamping History
- Orimi pe
are seen and interpreted by different contributors to this book.
The phrasing of ideas and the discursive frame of the chapters are grounded in intellectual and theoretical postulations in visual art from such books as Art and Imagination by Roger Scruton, several topics from Susanne K. Langer in Philosophhy in a New Key: Walter Benjamin: “Art in an industrial age, The Use and Abuse of Art by Jacque Barzum, Herbert Read: “The meaning of Art, The Sociology of Art by Jean Duvignaud, Christian and Oriented Philosophy of Art by Anada K. Coomaraswany, seems to provide the intellectual basis for diction and the discursive trend in the style of presentation of the essays in the collection.
The chapters are stimulating, very engaging, and intriguing. The book coming out from an exhibition event must be pleasurable and satisfying to Peju Layiwola because she said she had always wanted to exhibit her work in a place where it can be dispassionately discussed. If you have not read the book, please do as it will gladden your heart that the book situates your work within an academic ambiance in which Ayodeji Olukoju remarked that with the exhibition, you are grounded in the practice and intellectual, theoretical tradition of visual art.
I wish to state that the style of presentation of each of the essays in the book is fluid to read. There is something about the editorial work of the book. There is an interconnectedness in the expression of ideas and the writing of them that one would want to assume that there is a conference style of writing in the way the writers referenced each other in the same book without repeating each other’s view.
The book Indigo Reimagined teaches us as individuals or collective that we should learn to attend art exhibition and not see it as some sort of idle and dubious gaze at Images. But that we should engage art exhibition on a deeper level beyond appraising the aesthetic terms in the line, the colour, and the form in the works exhibited because art teaches, art expresses, art tells the story not only about the industry and craftsmanship of the producer but the world view. I found the book very readable, and very enlightening on how to appraise a work of art. For example, it reminds me of a time far away and long ago when I was asked to write a critical appreciation of the statue of Ozymandias a poem by Percy B. Shelley. From there I learned that a statue tells history, a statue has an in-built philosophy by his creator, a statue can tell you stories about life.
I want to thank the editor for a Job well-done job. His skill in editing makes the book quite readable, existing quite enticing to art connoisseurs, and researchers as may be so to the general reading public. Oniyan se; olobe se, a dupe lowo enyin ti e fe ba wa fi ife je.
Chairman, Distinguished audience, I present “Indigo Reimagined” to you for your pleasure and stimulating read.