FACE TO FACEBOOK BY PROF. MOYO OKEDEJI

 

Perhaps no contemporary African artist has, within the first decade of active practice, found a clearer voice than PEJU ALATISE’S. Clearly none has seamlessly synchronized painting, sculpture, installation art, and architecture as she does in this exhibition that reifies her commanding presence in the constantly expanding, incrementally confounding Africana artscape within which the work of El Anatsui presides.

Moyo Okediji:

If I’m right in saying that your mother is a judge in Nigeria, this is quite a remarkable achievement for a woman. Peju, has her success played any part in your determination to be successful as an artist?


Peju Alatise:

My Mother is a retired Magistrate. She went back to study law in the university at about the same time as i was enrolled into architecture. I doubt that there is any influence as i was already an artist. I did not plan to be a successful artist, I just wanted to create my ideas. I am content being an artist.

PEJU ALATISE:

On second thoughts, In my family, we are quite determined and resilient. I think that accounts for something.


Ekiko Ita Inyang:

Peju, you have a professional background in architecture and even though we are aware that architecture and art shares the same boundary, how has this shaped or influenced your fine art practice so far?

Jumoke Sanwo:

How was your transition into self discovery as an artist? How did you overcome the challenges that came along the way?

Moyo Okediji:

She needs a couple of minutes to digest these two questions. Let’s wait before asking for more.


Peju Alatise:

Ekiko Ita Inyang, my training as an architect definitely has an influence in my art. For six years of my young adult life, I was groomed to become an architect. That would have a profound effect on anyone. The advantage of studying architecture for me was the discipline.

 PEJU ALATISE:

An artist requires some level of discipline to practise professionally. I do not know if I would be a different type of artist if I studied visual arts. Another influence architecture had on me was the knowledge of materials. Material properties. This helps me understand the use of materials better, sometimes more on the technical side. The ability to think in 3dimensions too i owe to architecture. I was also a well-trained draftsman. The list goes on.

PEJU ALATISE:

Jumoke Sanwo, there was no transition into self-discovery for me. I have been an artist probably since the day i was born. I have always known i will practice art. I never denied myself the exploration or crystallization of ideas. There was no light bulb moment. There are experiences that have guided me along my crossroads, but they encouraged me to continue my practice.


Moyo Okediji:

One of my students describes your work as “robing, disrobing, revealing, obstructing and deconstructing the gendered body.” What do you think of this description?


Peju Alatise:

Interesting. In my work, which is sometimes representational, there is the mystifying and the revealing. There is the tendency for me to be seemingly pious (with covering of the female body because I see the art piece as a living thing, having feelings, being a spectacle to an audience and the Muslim upbringing in me takes precedence). This is counter balanced with the need to call attention to issues the artwork is portraying.


Victor Okereke:

Peju good evening. Interesting interview. Which schools did you attend? Did you ever practice architecture?


Peju Alatise

Good evening Victor, I studied Architecture in Ladoke Akintola University, Oyo state. I practiced a couple of years, working for a firm before I set up a makeshift studio. I still practice architecture.


Ekiko Ita Inyang:

Peju, if I’m correct, your last solo exhibition was in 2012, entitled: Material Witness; it held at the Nike Art Gallery in Lagos. I was left at awe upon a survey of your stylistically related body of works ‘’Purple Period’’ (Lest I forget 1, 2, 3). Does this work represents your recent departures? They were quite fantastic! And what also caught my attention was their reference to the monument of the female body.

Rikki Wemega-Kwawu:

Hey! Could you believe we had a sudden power outage here? Just when I was getting ready to move to another part of the city (Takoradi) to continue our conversation, the lights come back on. At least, I could take a sigh of relief… Lol!


Peju Alatise:

Please Ekiko Ita Inyang, can you clarify what you mean by recent departure. Thank your for your comment on the show “Material Witness.”

Peju Alatise:

I would like to add in general that working on the female body for me, is often times, relating my own direct experiences. Being female and being true to my nature i can mostly identify with the female body. This does not mean that all my subjects are feminist issues. The circumstances in Nigeria makes almost any female voice a feminist voice. I do not deny being feminist either. But there are many issues presented in my work.


Rikki Wemega-Kwawu:

Peju, it is a great delight to be participating in this conversation, the first of its kind at University of African Art. I must say, you didn’t have a crawling stage as an artist. There was no precocious beginning for you, struggling with medium, distilling your ideas and concepts before they congeal. With your first major art exhibition at Nike’s Gallery, you were already a fully-fledged artist, catapulted straight into the brackets of the Nigerian masters, including El Anatsui. I was totally overwhelmed when I stumbled upon pictures from the show online. In fact, I was hit like a thunderbolt. I couldn’t help but splash these pictures liberally on my FB wall. May I ask, how has this meteoric rise to the apogee of the Nigerian art scene, what with all the local and global attention, affected you personally and your art? How are you handling all this “overnight” success as an artist?

Moyo Okediji:

Peju Alatise, thank you so much for talking with us for the past one hour. I have to be with my graduate students now for a seminar. The conversation can continue if Peju has time. I thank everybody who has made it such an exciting experience for all of us.

Ekiko Ita Inyang The use of raffia(right?), to build up an encrusted surface unto the body of the canvas before depicting the figures on them. Their uniqueness and style of representation were quite different from your previous works. The contrast is just too clear and their luminosity offers the viewer a rich hue of monochrome.


Peju Alatise:

No, it is not rafia, it was made with shoes strings. I believe the departure you may be referring to is the changes in my painting (2003-2006) which were mainly 2 dimensional. Earlier in my professional career, I painted, sculpted, designed and produced furniture, published my first novel, and designed architectural interiors. It became increasingly difficult to practice in all these fields simultaneously. I decided to find a way to amalgamate all these practices into one. Being a mixed media artist (even though my portraits were more popular) it was not a difficult challenge. It was a very natural step taken.


Benedict Onyemenam:

Peju made a comment emphasizing that her motivating objective is the satisfaction of independent artistic expression, as opposed to the goal of attaining success. I suspect this is the start-up motivation of every artist. Since she is part of the universal imperative of survival, what would Peju recommend as essential for a struggling artist who is considering surrendering this cherished liberty, given the attractive, yet dubious promise of adopting consumer-dictated art.


Peju Alatise:

I remember showing some of my mixed media works along with some portraits back in 2005/6, I got a review from a journalist saying, ”Alatise’s attempt to dabble into mixed media is unconvincing and a fail and she should stick to painting faces!” I have been a mixed media artist since I was 4yrs old.


Rikki Wemega-Kwawu:

Peju, I reckon, going through your CV in preparation for this conversation, that your practical work as an architect, I presume after school, was primarily in interior decor. Was Interior Architecture and Decor your fields of specialty within the larger field of Architecture, which was your major in school? And may I reiterate Ekiko’s earlier question, what direct effect has architecture had on your practice as a fine artist? Has your engagement with interior decoration been informing your unusual and complex choice of materials for your artwork?


Peju Alatise:

Benedict Onyemenam, I wish i could like your comment more than once. I read somewhere once that choosing to be an artist is like choosing to be a nun or monk, only you don’t need to be celibate. I do not think you can actually choose to be an artist, in my opinion, It is either you are or you are not. Now choosing to be devoted to the arts is something else. My recommendation to any artist is ”SPEAK THE TRUTH!!!”

Peju Alatise:

Or at least be sincere.


Rikki Wemega-Kwawu:

In one interview, you mentioned your artist brother as your inspiration. Apart from your brother, are there other major names you look up to, who inspire you? Do you look at other artist’s works? If you do, who are your favorites? Has the history of art and, for that matter, African art, been of any influence on your practice?


Peju Alatise:

Rikki Wemega-Kwawu, my degree in architecture is the bachelors in technology, having attended a university of technology. My first month while working in an architectural firm right after graduation, I was introduced to an architect Alva Alto. I was to read and study his works for the month without engaging in any design with the rest of the design team. Alva Alto introduced me to the world of design details and designs with direct relation to the human body and it’s habits. This was my initiation to design interiors. I practiced both presentational architecture and interior design (not decoration) with this firm and also on my own. The saying, “education never stops in the four wall of school applies to me here.” My knowledge and practice in these fields are all merged and are no longer separate practices. It is cumbersome to find where on ends and the other begins.


Rikki Wemega-Kwawu:

Peju, excuse me for throwing in questions faster than the incoming answers, there’s is so much on my mind to ask you. My questions and comments will be coming quite fast, but don’t be overwhelmed by them; just take your time to answer them. What do you think of the role of the visual artist in catalyzing change in the world and specifically in their communities?


Peju Alatise:

Rikki Wemega-Kwawu, I must have missed one of your earlier comments. I have been practicing professionally for at least 14 years. The exhibition at Nike art gallery is no way near my first showing. you wrote “you didn’t have a crawling stage as an artist. There was no precocious beginning for you, struggling with medium, distilling your ideas and concepts before they congeal. With your first major art exhibition at Nike’s Gallery, you were already a fully-fledged artist, catapulted straight into the brackets of the Nigerian masters, including El Anatsui.” Dear Rikki, I did my fair share of crawling and tumultuous beginnings, please I beggy oh, I’ve earned my street credibility. Please don’t take it from me because I loved every bit of it looking back now, I have worked extremely hard and not ashamed of it. This is not to say that I feel accomplished, NO WAY! I am still on my way to the truth and not close enough to it.


Rikki Wemega-Kwawu:

Peju, can I describe you as Africa’s Renaissance woman? You are a multi-media artist, working in many very-diversified and, sometimes, incongruous styles. And you write, too! Surprisingly, I just gathered from you that you still practice your architecture. Wow!!!..You’re amazing!!! Where do you get all the energy from? What’s a typical creative day like for you? You must’ve a very huge studio to accommodate your unbridled creative energy, don’t you?

Oluwafunmilayo Inyang:

Peju , i dont have questions , however my submission would be on your method and materials. Most artists are bewildered when it comes to color schemes. I notice that your works have architectural dimensions, but your color schemes are prolific and assertive. The use of black in your art is well highlighted by splashes of vibrant hues that leave the audience thirsting for more. And for this, i say , that your femininity is well pronounced and grounded in your art. I have followed the interview with rapt attention and i wish you worthy patronage in your trade.


Peju Alatise:

Rikki Wemega-Kwawu, there are many artist that I have discovered in my journey, famous and obscure that I look up to. I am fascinated by Do ho Suh, Antony Gormley. Piet Mondrian (from my architectural practice while studying Frank Lloyd Wrights)…. If i were to list my favorites, we will be here for a while. Susan Wenger plays a big role in my life. I may be right to say that almost every artist (dead or alive) has an imprint in my journey as an artist.

Peju Alatise:

Rikki Wemega-Kwawu, The role of an artist in catalyzing change in the world and specifically their communities can be reduced to one simple word, INFLUENCE. We influence people’s thoughts, how to think and feel. We teach the world how to see and Listen. We teach the world how to recognize and engage themselves and others on a deeper level.


Ekiko Ita Inyang:

Peju. Now, to your sculptural and installation works. African fabric or textile seems to be playing a very important role in the compositions of these works. Please, let us know what it is like to be working with this material. Is it because of the possibility of cultural intimacy they enact or just for decorative purposes or both?

Rikki Wemega-Kwawu:

You’re so profound and philosophical with your answers. That’s very admirable, I must say. I’m really enjoying our conversation. Your debt of thought easily reflects in your works. Great art couldn’t come from a shallow-minded individual. You make the African woman proud. Kudos! Yes, back to our earlier conversation. Admittedly, you’ve paid your dues as an artist, no two ways about that. But seeing how far you’ve come as an artist in fourteen years or so, to be put on the same pedestal with great masters like Bruce Onobrapkeya and El Anatsui, you’d agree with me, that it’s still been a meteoric rise. You don’t have to be self-effacing about that. Lol… Many artists work a lifetime in complete obscurity.


Peju Alatise:

Ekiko Ita Inyang, The following quote is an excerpt from my catalogue: “The most frequently used medium is the recyclable Nigerian-print fabrics. The contributing reason for this is the Nigerian-English language often substitutes the word fabric with material. In western-Nigeria, the cloth (wrapper) is a powerful symbol for covering all human secrets, mysteries and shame. In pre-colonial era, there was a certain type of clothing for certain ceremonies; certain colors worn on certain days by certain people. The motifs and symbols were drawn and printed on clothing in a language peculiar to the ethnic group. The cutting of the motifs and symbols on the wrappers mostly collected from my mother (which are quite modern prints) are used as collages to recreate a new visual language.”

Every piece of material used gives a symbolic relevance to the overall composition. As mentioned earlier, the fabric collage is the most recurring. I was first inspired by the patchwork designs by the renowned Nigerian fashion designer Ituen Basi. I was interested in the way she designed her clothing after reading an article about her. There had been a ban on the importation of fabrics into Nigeria when she was active. She reinvented the use of Nigerian print fabrics successfully. There was a burst of mismatched colors and prints, sewn together in a way no other designer had ever done. It became the new identity for contemporary Nigerian fashion. This I definitely borrowed from Ituen, but also taking it to another direction; the painter’s direction and my fabric collage was born.

Peju Alatise:

Rikki, honestly speaking, cutting all ‘bull-shit’, I am very uncomfortable to be put on any pedestal. I derive no pleasure. I am looking up to Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya and El Anatsui. I just want to do my work and do it well. There was a time I did crave recognition for my work. It took too much energy and I lost focus. I’m not going back there.

Peju Alatise:

Oluwafunmilayo Inyang, Omo maami, Thank you.


Ekiko Ita Inyang:

May be that was why Nigerian metal sculptor Fidelis Odogwu described you as ”Weird MC”, in a television interview in 2011 or 2012 (after the iconoclastic, nonconformist Nigerian female rapper’s stage name, from Ogun state) because of the concepts or design direction your installation and sculptural works always take. Let me ask you, what is it like working with that great guy (Fidelis Odogwu) whom I reckon as the St Peter of Olu Amuda.


Peju Alatise:

Fidelis Odogwu I fondly call The Prince of Iron, I know nothing of him being a Saint peter. This is a man that has the “ability to punish and exalt metal, transforming it in a way that seemed disputable”. I have worked with him for over eight years now and we remain dear friends, colleagues and family. His expertise influences my work a great deal. He is of great support to me. If I must choose a pedestal, then I hope I am worthy to sit on his shoulders.


Ekiko Ita Inyang:

Peju. You are also the author of two books, Silifat: Twelve Seasons and Orita Meta—the Crossroads ( I have not read any of them. I hope to get an autographed copy from you after this conversation. *lol*). However, very few painters are writers. At least I know of the Chinese exiled artist in France Gao Xingjian. He paints and he is also a novelist, playwright and poet. In fact he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2000. Even the Trinidadian watercolorist Derek Walcott is also a writer and won the Nobel too, in 1992. Are we still going to see more books from you? However, I understand that Sifilat is not a complete fictional work. Tell us about your writing experience.


Peju Alatise:

It has been most honorable and of great pleasure to me, engaging with you all, Oluwafunmilayo Inyang, Rikki Wemega, Ekiko Ita Inyang, Victor Okereke, Benedict Onyemenam, Jumoke Sanwo and all other participants . To Prof Moyo Okediji who gave me this avenue to speak and answer questions. Thank you and good day/evening/night.


Rikki Wemega-Kwawu:

Let me indulge a little bit more of your time, Peju. A couple more questions before you leave… If you can’t comment on them now, you may do that later.

Benedict Onyemenam:

Fantastic evening Prof! Fantastic engagement – Peju, Rikki, Ekiko, Oluwafunmilayo, Jumoke et al… You have all unearthed such valuable material with superior profit than ten rich Gold Mines, and that without occasioning any environmental or human degradation. Bravo all.

Benedict Onyemenam:

Rikki’s request is equal to an Encore by the appreciative audience of a Maestro’s performance. We all echo the refrain, and look forward to the next episode.

Moyo Okediji:

Next week, same time, we will be engaging The Olu Oguibe. I will give a better introduction later. Dr. Oguibe left Nigeria many years ago, and some people, especially the younger ones, may not fully know his contribution to contemporary African art.

Moyo Okediji:

Ms. Alatise is preparing for a major exhibition is Europe. It would be wonderful for her to return and talk more with us after the opening of her exhibition.

Moyo Okediji:

On behalf of the University of African Art, we thank Peju Alatise for giving us such a wonderful understanding of her creative work. We are especially grateful to Rikki Wemega-Kwawu and Ekiko Ita Inyang for co-hosting this talk. We are appreciative of everyone who has participated in making our first FACE-TO-FACEBOOK Artist Talk so engaging. Enjoy the rest of the evening. And join us next with to talk with Olu Oguibe.

Rikki Wemega-Kwawu

I’m yet to have a direct physical encounter with your work, and I’m anxiously looking forward to that. I never knew of Peju Alatise before. My first encounter with your work was online, when I bumped into those electrifying pictures from your show at Nike’s. What comes across immediately looking at your massive installation (for a moment I thought it was a group exhibition) and the sheer variety and complexity of work is the brute force and emotive power which emanate from the individual works, at least, those captured vividly by the pictures. Before, I could read a line about you, I knew instantly, here was a GENIUS we were dealing with. However, in my further research about you yesterday, in preparation for this conversation, I stumbled upon your paintings for the first time. I’d read before that you painted as well, but I was yet to see any painting from you. I was taken aback by the paintings. They were technically very-well executed, no two ways about that, but in sharp contra-distinction to the power in your sculptural installations. I’m afraid, they were very academic and soft (perhaps belying the tenderness of your femininity because of their autobiographical signature) and lacked that radicalism, emotive power and brute force which your sculptural work encapsulates. This has nothing to do with the interesting anecdotal content of the work. Of course, this is my personal and candid critical observation, and I trust my aesthetic judgment. In synchrony with your strong sculptural style, perhaps, I was a expecting a painting style with the ferocity and explosiveness of an Ablade Glover, a Basquiat or a De Kooning. I’d love to hear your viewpoint on my observation.

Sofo Elijah:

It is rare for a young artist like me to be exposed to such interesting and academically stimulating discussion as this. Having being introduced to Ms. Alatise’s works by Rikki after her show at the Nike gallery, I have gotten a lot more insight and understanding of her work and philosophy. Thanks Prof. Okediji for this platform. With the up coming discussion with Dr. Olu Oguibe, I am eagerly anticipating a more explosive discussion especially when it comes to his views of young, upcoming artist from Nigeria and Africa as a whole. I have read some essays of his and look forward to that discussion.

Rikki Wemega-Kwawu:

Peju, in my now famous essay, “The Politics of Exclusion: The Undue fixation of Western-based African Curators on African-Diaspora Artists: A Critique,” I argued vehemently that Africa, the homeland of the great El Anatsui, abounds in creative talents, who are doing extraordinary work comparable to the best anywhere in the world. They have, however, been marginalized in preference to our artists brothers and sisters who are domiciled in the West. Coming upon your work, I must admit, I felt vindicated! You were a typical example of just what I was advocating. You were, indeed, a showpiece to the world, I have no doubts in my mind about that! Now, to my very last question. What advice would you give younger female artists on the continent, who would be looking up to you as a role model?


Peju Alatise:

Ekiko Ita Inyang,  yes there are more books in the pipeline. I find writing to be another medium in my work. I remain an artist, using words to create imagery in the mind of a reader. Most of my art works are stories. Recently I developed a keen interest in Yoruba folklore, mythology and philosophy, and this is evident in the visual result of my art pieces. I am greatly influenced by Eduardo Galeano from Uruguay both in the way of thinking and in expressive writing style.


Ekiko Ita Inyang @ Peju Alatise:

thanks for responding to my questions. It was interesting having you on FACE-TO- FACEBOOK TALK yesterday evening.


Peju Alatise:

Rikki Wemega-Kwawu, between 2003 and 2007 was a phase I was in when writing was my main pursuit alongside architectural designs. I was in the process of publishing my first book ‘Orita-meta’. I was more concerned with creating the characters in my stories, giving them faces. This is what the portraits were about. In my design projects during these period was were I threw in my ‘radicalism’ (as you call it). I was visited by a ten-year old, who expressed these same views as she was writing about my work for her school paper. She also thought there was a drastic change between my earlier works and my more recent works. Indeed it is quite obvious with those well acquainted with my work. This I attribute to the decision to integrate all aspects of my practices. Fusing painting with sculpture, design, literature and even mythology into one art piece is what my recent works exude. BUT, there is still room for change and growth.

Peju Alatise:

Rikki Wemega-Kwawu, I am aware of the influence /bias of gender in art appraisal/appreciation. My work will definitely be perceived differently if I were a man. But I could care less about gender bias. There is no such thing as female Art (if there is, I am not aware and do not wish to be aware), so the phrase female artist is unusual to me. I am an artist before I am female. I learned to paint before I understood the consequences of being female. I understand my limitations when it comes to physical strength and I compensate in other ways. My advice to “female-artist” is to put gender aside and work. There is so much work to be done, especially on this continent.

Peju Alatise:

I agree with Benedict Onyemenam with regards to galleries, museums and curators. These are human beings and human-manages-institutions. Human beings come with a manufacturers-warning called PERSONAL OPINION, personal taste and personal idiosyncrasies. I have had a curator deny I am an artist but only a  craftsman. I have had the same curator introduce me on a recorded televised program as invisible and having a problem with being relevant without knowing what I do. Although there are lopsided views and opinions, every one of them is extremely relevant to the growth and sustainability of the great ARTS!

Peju Alatise:

Again, I am thankful to everyone who participated in this discussion. Indeed it has been a privilege to engage with you all. Thank you for your encouragements and sincerity.


Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju:

Wonderful concept in developing scholarship through social media. Clearly, Okediji’ is creating trend setting possibilities in the marriage of the Internet ,particularly social media, and art and scholarship. It would be good to have all these as books one day, perhaps collected year by year.

Moyo Okediji:

Peju Alatise, when you wrote, “My advice to ‘female-artist’ is to put gender aside and work,” does this change your self-definition as a feminist artist? Because you once described yourself to me as being feminist. Has your position changed?


Peju Alatise:

Moyo Okediji, If I were a man I would still be feminist! I would fight for justice regardless of my gender, age, sexual orientation, race, etc. Again living in a country such as ours makes me even more determined to speak for equality of sexes. Now being feminist is a totally different issue from work ethics! I believe a possible way of overcoming gender politics in workplaces is to keep working effectively and remain relevant. I am not trying to trivialize gender bias, what i am saying is sometimes seeking recognition is not always the solution. There is a reason why we have very few women artist in Nigeria in comparison to the number of men. The culture here does not favor women in this field (Other fields include engineering, politics, transportation, etc.). Although views are changing, it is not changing fast enough for the 21st century. Women should not focus on limitations but overcome them. My statement “put gender aside” means focus on creating solutions.


 Moyo Okediji:

I appreciate the clarification, Peju.