Making meaning from a fragmented past: 1897 and the creative process

Peju Layiwola


One of the most traumatic experiences that occurred in Africa at the turn of the 19th century is the Benin/British encounter of 1897. The plundering of thousands of works of art from the palace of the king of Benin by the British, now spread across several museums in the West, continues to be an issue that keeps recurring. Ever since that episode, 1897 has become a theme, which is explored by various artists in Nigeria in a variety of genres. This paper attempts to discuss some of the artistic engagement with this theme and how artists have sought to recapture the past in a variety of media.



Nigeria, Benin, trauma, legacy, patrimony, restitution, exhibition, Monday Midnite, Ganiyu Jimoh

Full text: Layiwola_p.85-96 (1,010 KB)


Biographical note

Peju Layiwola is a visual artist and art historian with an active studio practice, as well as a strong commitment to research. She has had several art exhibitions locally and internationally. Her most recent travelling exhibition and edited book, entitled Art and the Restitution Question, is an artistic exploration of the Benin/British encounter of 1897. She has published several articles on the visual culture of Nigeria. Presently, she is associate professor and head of the Department of Creative Arts at the University of Lagos, Nigeria where she teaches art history.

An earlier version of this material was presented on the occasion of the project conference ‘Disturbing Pasts: Memories, Controversies and Creativity’ (20 -22 November 2012, Museum of Ethnology/Weltmuseum Wien, Vienna). To view the film footage on the Open Arts Archive,, follow this link: