Body Vessel Clay – the landmark exhibition now open at London’s Two Temple Place – brings to light how Black women artists have disrupted and reimagined traditions of studio ceramics over the last 70 years.
Taking as its fulcrum the work of seminal Nigerian potter Ladi Kwali (1925-1984), the exhibition traces Kwali’s influence on one of the world’s oldest artforms, showing her work alongside that of six contemporary artists, including Bisila Noha, a graduate of Cockpit’s London Creative Network programme.
At the forefront of a new wave of creativity in Nigeria, Kwali achieved international renown – a key figure, she features on the country’s 20 Naira banknote. And yet, for decades her legacy was overshadowed by her connection with British Potter Michael Cardew, who set up the Pottery Training Centre in Abuja in the 1950s.
At Two Temple Place, curator Jareh Das takes a different tack, shifting the focus onto the matrilineal connections between Kwali and generations of women artists, starting with Dame Magdalene Odundo, who worked alongside Kwali in the 1970s.
I was in awe of Ladi Kwali – she had an amazing presence. Every time I walk around my work, I think of her. She opened up my horizons. I started appreciating [through her work] the longevity and universality of the art in other African countries. The work of Ladi Kwali was absolutely poetic. She had a sense of geometry in her bones, and could see form as it was being made.
Dame Magdalene Odundo
Bisila Noha’s new works, shown alongside Odundo’s iconic vessels, seek to redress the fact that pottery, especially that made by women in the Global South, has been ignored, belittled and forgotten. Responding to the legacies of Ladi Kwali and Kouame Kakaha, Noha brings forth a new, contemporary voice in ceramics while remaining rooted and connected to earlier traditions.
Body Vessel Clay also features objects, films and installations by artists working in clay: Phoebe Collings-James, Shawanda Corbett, Chinasa Vivian Ezhuga, Jade Montserrat and Julia Phillips. Collectively, these artists share, across geographies and temporalities, a deep fascination with testing the medium’s properties to render personal, political collective and visionary new aesthetics.
A series of panel talks, curator’s tours and workshops accompanies the exhibition.
On Tuesday 1 March, Bisila Noha joins ceramicist and TV presenter Rich Miller (Great Pottery Throwdown, Channel 4) and Cockpit artist Onome Otite in a talk chaired by Cockpit’s Annie Warburton on navigating careers in contemporary craft. More information and booking here.
Being part of such an inspiring and thought-provoking exhibition has been a real dream come true, as well as a turning point in my career. The journey up to here has been one of on-going self-discovery as a maker, with focus and, to a degree, a plan. For this, the learnings from the mentoring programme I was part of at London Creative Network have been immensely useful.
Body Vessel Clay runs at Two Temple Place to 24 April.
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