Peju Alatise gets what she wants. In so doing, she does not suffer fools, back down from challenges or accept standards other than the ones she sets.
I first met her in Italy’s city on the sea, Venice, while she was installing her work as one of the selected artists for Nigeria’s debut at the 57th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale.
On reaching the pavilion, she discovered and was immediately dissatisfied that her installation, Flying Girls — a collection of eight life-sized figures, surrounded by birds and butterflies — would not be elevated off the ground to her specification.
It would require previously unbudgeted-for expenditure for slabs of wood, longer man-hours for her and her assistant, and the possibility of the installation not being ready in time for the pavilion opening date, for which invitations had gone out, guests had flown in and anticipation and fanfare was in the air all the way back in Lagos, Nigeria.
Alatise worked nine-hour days nonstop for 10 days: on the floor, nailing, painting, unwrapping; on a ladder, stitching, tying fibreglass birds to a false roof. Every day, she reminded her assistant not to come late the next day. When he did — she nearly always arrived before him anyway — she would have started the work he was supposed to be doing. If she heard his profuse apologies, she didn’t show it.
Her installation was ready two days before opening day.
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