Peju is a mixed media artist. She uses visual and literary media to express her art. Her art is as much about sociopolitical and socioeconomic commentary as it is about aesthetics, visual appeal and experimentation. Although professionally trained as an architect, she has continued to practice mixed media art for 18 years, focusing on a seamlessly hybridized painting, sculpture, installation, architecture and more recently performance arts.
Her first novel was first runner up for Female Writer 2006, Flora Nwakpa Prize by Association of Nigerian Authors.
“Issues of gender, race, politics and culture permeate my work.”
Peju uses the thematic premise of Yoruba mythology and existential fantasies to contextualize her critique of contemporary socioeconomic and sociopolitical failures that plague the developing world, particularly in her home country, Nigeria.
“I always practiced my art regardless of its sustainability”
Peju became aware that she could sell art when she entered into a gallery for the first of her life at the age of seventeen. She says, “back then, there were hardly any galleries in the country, the only museum in Lagos was dysfunctional (and remains so till this day). It came to me as an utter surprise (but the most delightful one) that there could be monetary gain for doing what came to her so naturally.” She went on to study architecture, at the insistence of her father, and continued to create art she could sell.
“The choice and approach to materials in any particular body of works are sometimes purposeful and predetermined; other times it is experimental. It is my intention that the materials and mediums tell a visual story. There are a good variety of materials and mediums used in my projects and each Art piece is a mixed-media assemblage.”
The materials used include recyclable glass bottles, plastic containers, newspapers, Nigerian-print fabrics, ropes, treads, wires, scrap metal, scrap wood, driftwoods, sawdust, an abandoned boat, sand, acrylic paints, resin, plaster-of-Paris, and stretched canvas. Most materials are manipulated, recreated and used to their possible limits. There were times the mediums/materials dictated their specific contextual usage. The acceptance of their properties and limitations redirected the end result of a preconceived idea.
The most frequently used medium in her work is the controversial African-print fabrics often made in China or London and also the indigenously produced textiles.
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 her mother and are used as collages to recreate a new visual language.
It is difficult to estimate an average time frame for the production of her works. One of her more recently (almost) completed projects titled the ‘flying girls’ has taken 30 months to complete some parts of it, but this includes a story book and a documental film production. Another recently completed project is ‘Paradox, Paradigms and Parasites’, which she started in 2012. Both projects were being produced simultaneously.
“Art does not only address the sustainability of culture but it is a direct influencer of culture and many human activities in general but also vice versa. As john Dewey put it- art is the expression of the life of the community.”
To Peju culture is a vast, all-inclusive, intangible structure that is difficult to define but easily identifiable especially in terms of social, economic and environmental when classifying/ identifying a group of people. A society’s cultural identity is developed and made sustainable by a knowledge of their history is an understanding of their environment and an insight into the heart and soul of their humanity; amongst other things. Art is manifest in these factors, amplifying their relevance to the society.
“I would like to make an impact in two ways”
Firstly, in the area of pre-conceived perceptions and expectations of what “African” art could/should be. A little bald Spanish man once told Peju he did not care for some of her work because it contained symbolisms and gestures that look ‘African’. He used words like, primitive, craft, traditional and African esthetics.
In other words, she wants to create works that inform her audience, giving its own definition whilst being unburdened by a predefined narrative.
“The burden to create African art is a great one that I dare not indulge; Africa is enormously vast and complicated”, says Peju, “I simply cannot create a presentation that begins to decipher the littlest fraction of Its diversity. But what I can do is create works that are defined and influenced by my experiences in my little geographic space (which includes the World Wide Web) that tells stories of its humanity. And maybe, by doing this, the world would engage with Africa in clearer honesty”.
The second way she would like to make an impact (It would be magic but I doubt it would happen in my life time); is to close the gap in gender disparity in the consciousness of Nigerians. Her messages will always include woman and the girl child.
Her favorite audience is children mostly between 7 to 14 year olds. They have had the most profound effect on her. They have given her new direction and challenged her narratives.
“Most of my Artworks I ‘see’ in dreams, and I know what they should look like before I am started.”
"There are other factors that have contributed to her narrative such as material mediums or lack thereof; she says, “if I am conflicted on how to proceed with a particular piece it would be because ‘I have not seen it yet’. But my father died 21 months ago and I stopped dreaming about my work. At the moment I’m running on older ideas. I am a bit uneasy now because I am not producing in the creative methods familiar with me.”
“I am self-taught with a life time of experimenting and practice”
Peju’s work is as unique and despotic as her story: she would like her work to reach the soul of its observer, so that there is a private engagement or moment of communication between the two that could possibly make the world a smaller and less complicated place.