In many ways, it’s apropos given Peju’s birthplace and horrific events that unfolded in her homeland of Nigeria several years ago.
Nigeria has grown dramatically and is home to modern lifestyles that unfortunately include an extremist group of military terrorists called Boko Haram. In 2009, they staged an unsuccessful uprising against the Nigerian government and in 2014, a more radicalized warring faction kidnapped a group of 276 girls from a government school. While some of the girls were released, the majority are still captives.
This violence was absent when Peju was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1976, but her decision to defy social expectations and create art was manifest in other religious and social confines. When Peju creates art, she speaks to the “condition of women and girls in hyper-patriarchal Nigeria, where forced marriages and kidnappings are not uncommon.”
Her decision to become an artist defied her father’s wishes, which are part of his devoted Muslim upbringing. Peju left architecture school coincidentally when she decided to march in a protest rally at her school. While traveling along the marching route, she passed an art gallery and saw an exhibit that inspired her to change her career path. Thankfully, her mother supported her choice, in part because a local spiritualist predicted Peju would become a world-famous artist.
The video below features Peju and her personal story. It’s fascinating and relevant this week because it builds on our WomanScape spotlight of Scottish-born missionary, Mary Slessor. In Mary Slessor: Mother of All the Peoples, we learn that Mary moved to Calabar, the capital center in Nigeria back in the late 1800s. Subsequently, the capital was moved to Peju’s hometown, where it stayed until 1991 (modern-day Lagos).
But the connection between Mary and Peju is certainly more than geographic. Mary was an average woman from a poor working class family who became a hero to Nigerians. Peju started her career painting large portraits of ordinary women who she portrayed as heroes. Today, much of Peju’s work is now large sculptural pieces that cover body parts. Her intent is to highlight what’s missing in Nigerian society, which including the girls taken by the Boko Haram.
Earlier this week, WomanScape featured Peju’s Flying Girls exhibit; eight life-sized sculptures of girls in various stages of servitude. Peju’s amazing work tells a story in a fantastical way, with hope circling its wings overtop of the girls and offering them the chance to fly to freedom.
This idea of finding freedom is a much sought-after state in most spiritual explorations. It is a desire to find peace and happiness in life. This never loses its importance in our world. The creative work and stories of Peju Alatise are a testament to the exploration of self and her journey will help others to consider freedom in provocative new ways.
Tomorrow, WomanScape continues its discussion of the soul and our spiritual exploration by traveling back in time to the origins of women’s circles. Their resurgence in today’s world has that uncanny way of history repeating with a new take on the sacred feminine.