Will Rea

Will Rea


I joined Leeds University in 2000, initially as the Henry Moore Fellow in Sculpture Studies. 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.

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  JK Randle Heritage Centre 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.  I recently completed four years of external examining at SOAS.

I was formally Director of the Faculty Graduate School, Developed the Qualitative training modules for PGR students and have served on University Senate.  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.  These vary in terms of their metaphysical manifestations.  I also work on Yoruba religious modes of thought more widely.

The study of masquerade prompts numerous areas of research and my work deals with issues of identity, youth, transformation, performance and materiality.  The primary concern is to understand masquerade in specifically Yoruba ways of thinking about things.  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

I have also been working on the wood carving tradition of the Ekiti region.  I am currently investigating the William Fagg archive at the Royal Anthropological Institute and comparing that work with other archives, such as those of Philip Alison and John Picton.

I am currently developing work on the way in which forms of heritage in Lagos and Ibadan are intersecting with the growth of cultural entrepreneurship and creative industry in Nigeria.  This work will look to the development of the contemporary art market in Nigeria, but also focus on the more marginal practitioners of creative work.

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 supervised and examined PhD students on a wide range of subjects.  Current students are working on magical medecines in West Africa and identity and curatorship in the British Museum.   


<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.  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 have supervised and examined a number of PhD students.  I am currently supervising on a number of projects ranging from the comparative use of medicine in Nigeria to 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>