Black History Month – UK

My five-year-old granddaughter’s school assignment was to write about three famous black women. In recognition of Black History Month, she chose three women whom she admires: Misty Copeland, Peju Alatise, and Maya Angelou.

Picture from exhibition at Sulgar-Buel Gallery, London

Peju Alatise is currently exhibiting at Frieze Sculpture 2022, Regents Park, London. The outdoor art gallery merges art with nature. The New York Times says, “‘Sim and the Yellow Glass Birds’ by the Nigerian writer/artist uses a series of four squares to depict the life of a 9 year old domestic servant in Lagos and how, in her dreams, she can fly.”

Sulger-Buel Gallery, London

BBC interview at Frieze Sculpture 2022

Read more about Peju Alatise: Celebrating the New Power House and Tearing at the Fabric

Celebrating the New Power House – Peju Alatise

It has been 8 years since writing Tearing at the Fabric. Since then, Peju, Nigerian-born artist and architect, has forged ahead in the international world of contemporary art. Balancing motherhood with her relentless aspiration to create visionary art combining two successful shows at the Venice Biennale, not to mention relocating her atelier from Lagos to Glasgow, Peju has demonstrated that she is a non-stoppable, power house of a woman.

Originally named the Old Power House, this dilapidated space was waiting for just the right person to come along and revive it. Peju was searching, too…with a new vision and energy where her creativity would flow… they met. Peju’s decision to relocate in this far away country and start her own colony of African artists in Glasgow was a bold move. One year later, the Power House found new life as Peju’s vibrant art studio.

On June 18, 2022, people came from all over the world to celebrate Peju’s unique, powerful beginning in Glasgow, Scotland. The day was filled with music and dancing, eating and speeches, and joy, most of all joy for Peju, her courageous decision, her art, and her bright future.

Peju explains, Why Glasgow?

Glasgow is a thriving community of artists and Peju brings her dynamic personality and visionary art to this art scene.

The day was filled with music and people celebrating Peju’s journey of life and art. Even her mother, Mrs. Oluyemisi Alatise shared her newly published autobiography, Emii Ree, a meticulously chronology of the family and three generations of women .

Since my first post there has been many interviews and in-depth articles written about Peju. Here is just one but it is comprehensive and a MUST READ!

Tearing at the Fabric: Peju Alatise Nigeria’s Art Activist

Photo Credit: Yinka Akingbade

Photo Credit: Yinka Akingbade



LAGOS, Nigeria – As the party gets underway, a stunning dark-skinned African woman stands quietly amid lively chatter. “She is an artist and an activist,” my friend explains. “She is a sculptor, a painter, an architect and a storyteller.”

My mind races to conjure up a perfect opening that might impress such a talented woman, but she is the first to speak. Her voice, low and modulated, transports me back to another evening at a new art space, Art Twenty One Lagos.

“Peju?” I exclaim.

A month earlier, the Nigerian Field Society invited its members to an evening with Peju Alatise and her newest exhibition Wrapture: The Story of Cloth. Peju walked into the art space unannounced.

Her throaty, passionate voice that evening, one month ago, had summoned us to gather.

“I am Yoruba,” she said, referring to the name of her tribe. “I am Nigerian.”

“But, I feel a strong disconnect with my birthplace,” she said.

“My art is my journey, my commentary is to question the hypocrisy within all societies and my country.”

I was fully engaged in listening to her impassioned eloquence. My eyes feasted on the massive, three-dimensional installment that erupted in a kaleidoscope of color. No longer just the artist, Peju was at the helm—the master storyteller—guiding us through the sheer complexity of each piece and her journey in creating it. Her voice rose in ferocity mirroring the turbulence in her work, and lowered in tenderness when recalling her personal voyage.

Peju got straight to the point. “I have a loud voice and I use it. My art gives me the freedom to reflect societies maladies. I must be brutally honest in hopes to shake and shock the viewer.”

The installments were powerfully vivid and provocative in their detail. The cloth was Nigerian print from the local markets, pulled, creased, draped, twisted, rolled and combined with beads, resin, paint and dyes to fashion stories, the narratives woven— sexuality, repression, Yoruba mythology, religion, abuse.

“In Yorubaland a piece of cloth is worn as a wrapper that covers a womanʼs body,” she said. “Generations ago, patterns and colors printed on a cloth identifies a culture and an ethnic group. Here, I use the cloth as a symbol of intimacy, privacy, spirituality, beauty, death, folklore and violation.”

Peju was asked if she is a feminist. “Hey, I live in a third world country. Just to be treated with respect in my country is an act of feminism,” she quipped. “Of course, Iʼm a feminist! But if I were a man I would still be a feminist! With all of Africaʼs problems, the least urgent is equal rights for women.”

Nine Year Old Bride was an installation meant to address womenʼs rights. A looming four meters high by two meters wide, the sculpture was covered with thirty-eight meters of fabric, draped and wound, to reveal female forms frozen in resin.

“I knew a girl who was forced to marry four husbands before she turned twenty,” Peju said outlandishly. “There are young girls employed as maids that are barely older than the children they are asked to care for. Nobody is fighting for these young girls, not even their mothers.”

Child brides in Nigeria outnumber all those in other West African combined, according to a Ford Foundation study issued last September. Child marriage is not illegal under Nigerian law and more than a dozen out of 36 states have not ratified the Child Rights Act of 2003, which sets the minimum age for marriage at 18.

In 2010, outraged Nigerians sparked a national debate when a senator, who allegedly married a 13 year-old Egyptian girl as his fourth wife, argued that Islam places no restriction on the age of marriage for a girl. (Egyptʼs Child Law of 2008 makes 18 the legal marriage age.)
“The practice came under scrutiny in July,” read a recent article in The Guardian, “when legislators tried to scrap a constitutional clause that states citizenship can be renounced by anyone over 18 or a married woman, apparently implying women can be married under 18.”

Nigeria ranks fourth out of 162 countries for its high rate of slavery following India, China and Pakistan, according to the 2013 Global Slavery Index. Modern-day slavery is defined as child marriage, human trafficking and forced labor, according to Walk Free Foundation, a non-profit initiative.

Peju teamed up with Art Twenty One Lagos and solicitor Edward Keazor to raise awareness of child abuse in a campaign called Child Not Bride. The drive held at the Eko Hotel on Victoria Island was to petition the United Nations to stop the Nigerian Senate from making underage marriage the law. To date they collected over one hundred thousand signatures.

“My voice is loud, my art is my truth. But the government seems oblivious and people seem not to care,” said Peju. “The majority of the populace is either trying to survive or [is] aggressively in pursuit of acquiring possessions.”

Peju is not idle in giving back to her community. She trains both women and men in sewing and beadwork hoping that mastering a craft builds self-esteem and some financial independence.

Other classes are also taught at various schools throughout Lagos.

“I think I make a difference to mostly the younger generation of artists,” Peju continued. “I am often invited to speak with students. I make myself accessible to them and offer training.”

Now, back at the party, as we stand among friends, I understand why I had not recognized Peju tonight. She had performed her art, weaving a tapestry of urgency and vitality, churning emotions, challenging norms and inspiring thinking at her exhibition one month ago.

Back then, I met the storyteller. And on this evening I am wrapped in the tale.

“All I have is my story, my truth,” Peju says gently in parting.

Lesley Lababidi is an author of Cairo’s Street Stories: Exploring the City’s Statues, Squares, Bridges, Gardens, and Sidewalk Cafés. She resides in Nigeria.

Read Article at: Valerie Magazine Global News for Women by Women

All Photographs and text are under international copyright laws. No re-use without the written permission of Lesley Lababidi 2023.