Will Rea

Will Rea


Prior to joining Leeds I taught at UCL, SOAS and Goldsmiths College in London. My background began in anthropology, but my PhD, from the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, looks both to Art History and Anthropology. I joined the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies in 2000, intially as Henry Moore Fellow in sculpture studies, but was then asked to lead and restructure the MA in Sculpture Studies, working with the Henry Moore Foundation.  

My major research concerns the masquerades of the Ekiti Yoruba in Nigeria.  This work investigates issues of identity in performance as well as the relationship between transformation and materiality in Yoruba thought. Currently I am engaged on two related research projects. I am conducting work on the way in which the historical moment of British colonialism is reflected in the arts (mainly wood carvings) of Ekiti and the wider Yoruba polity and I am developing research on cultural entrepreneurship and the creative industries in Lagos and Ibadan. I am working with the team developing of the John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History in Lagos as well as continuing my historical investigation of the Ibadan Renaissance and the flowering of art and literature in that town in the 1960s.    

I also work on British Sculpture of the 20th Century and was Chair of the Harlow Art Trust in which role I developed Harlow as a sculpture town destination for which the Trust was awarded the Marsh Prize

I was formally Director of the Faculty Graduate School. In that role I developed the qualitative training modules for PGR students, organised and co-ordinated PGR training programmes in conjunction with European Universities and was a Co-applicant on a major EU FP7 grant on Artists as researchers.

I was a member of University Senate and I am currently programme Leader for Art History.


  • Programme Manager - Art History

Research interests

My detailed research is on the masquerades of the Ekiti Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria. I specifically deal with two forms of masked performance - Egigun and Epa. My work investigates issues of identity in performance as well as the relationship between transformation and materiality in Yoruba thought. This is particularly expressed in looking at the logic of visual display and manifestation. Increasingly I am looking at Yoruba number theory and modes of innovation and creativity as a challange to a Western art history based in Cartesian logic. The study of masquerade prompts numerous areas of research and my work deals with issues of identity, youth, transformation, performance and materiality. The work also takes an historical view of masquerade, relating this history to the logic of performance and the place of masquerade in logics of health, mare particualrly to epidemics

I am also a specialist on the woodcarving traditions of West Nigeria, having learnt to carve in Nigeria. The emphasis in this work is on unlocking the colonial and post-colonial histories of this art tradition - looking to provide analysis that places history rather than the boundaries of geography at the heart of an art history. Currently I am investigating the William Fagg archive at the Royal Anthropological Institute and comparing that work with other archives, such as those of Philip Alison (Weston Library, Oxford) and John Picton.

As co-ordinating curator of the John Randle Centre, one of the newest and innovatory museums in sub-Saharan Africa I have been centrally engaged in participatory curation in Lagos. This work has meant engagment with Nigerian museums and curators as well as with loaning institutions in the UK (particularly the BM and Pitt-Rivers Museum). As the museum reaches completion I am developing work with local NGO groups in Lagos, Ibadan and London, as well as more establshed institutions (such as the school of Fine Arts at Yaba Technical College), on the representation and production of heritage in Africa. This project also looks to engage historically with archives in Lagos and the UK, looking to trace the formation of heritage policy and its post-colonial iteration, but also with the way in which heritage is increasingly used by communities as an assertation of local identity. As such the project is asking why, in the present day, displaying material that would once have been subject to secrecy is actively encouraged. The project title – from Belief to Heritage suggests a revaluation of modes of display and displaying Africa.    

My curatorial experience includes Yoruba textiles at the University of Leeds International Textile Archive, A reconsideration of Slavery at Harewood House and consultancy work for the Vatican Museum, Yale University Art Museum and others.

I have a secondary research interest in British Art of the 20th Century. This is particualrly focussed on the social realism of the 1930s to 1950s, but also includes an interest in Neo-Romanticism of the 1950s. I have also organised various exhibitions of modern British art. 

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • B.Sc. UCL
  • Ph.D. Sainsbury Research Unit, UEA.

Professional memberships

  • Royal Anthropological Institute
  • African Studies Association UK
  • Art Council of the African Studies Association

Student education

I teach on a range of modules and I contribute to the Undergraduate teaching programme at all levels.

I specifically teach on the arts of Africa across the continent and in the Atlantic World more generally. I teach and supervise on the 'classical' traditions of African Art as well as the ways in which those traditions inform contemporary artworlds across the continent. I also have an active interest in, and teach on, the engagements between the disciplines of anthropology and art history, looking at the philosophical and methodological similarities and differences that underpin those disciplines, especially as they deal with the material 'thing'. I also teach on British Modernism in the 20th Century. I am in the process of developing a module on African Displaying and Displays of Africa.

I have supervised and examined a number of PhD students. I am currently supervising a number of projects; Jamaican textiles in an Atlantic context, Publishing and illustration in Ghana, An ethnographic examination of the British Museum's community projects.

I welcome applications from PhD students with interests in Africa, African Art and Material Culture, Contemporary African Art and British Art of the 20th C. esp. Sculpture.

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>