Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art

Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art

Ladi Kwali and Dame Magdalene Odundo are, to put it lightly, two of my favourite ceramic artists. Their pots have excited and inspired me since I first learnt about them as a student ceramist, and I had the incredible opportunity to experience their work in person at York Gallery in September of this year.

Curated by Dr Jareh Das, Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art explores 70 years of ceramics and the work of three generations of Black women artists.

Here are a few photos I took while at the gallery. The lighting was spectacular; I love the spotlighting of the vessels and the curvy and rotund shadows they cast. Enjoy!

 Ladi Kwali. Stoneware vessels.

Ladi Kwali. Bowl. 1975. Stoneware & slip glaze.
Danlami Aliyu. Bottle with stopper. 1952-2012. Stoneware.

 Ladi Kwali. Dish. 1950-1979. Stoneware.

 Danlami Aliyu. Plate. 1952-2012. Stoneware.
Aliyu illustrated this plate with depictions of the kiln and drying room at the Abuja Pottery Training Centre in Nigeria. (Excuse the over-exposed image)

 A hand drawn map of northern Africa by Michael Cardew. 

 A leaflet for African Craftsmen in America, a tour of demonstrations and lectures by Ladi Kwali, Kofi Athey and Michael Cardew.

  Ladi Kwali looking fierce

  Ladi Kwali. Water vessel. 1950-1979. Stoneware.

Nigerian born Ladi Kwali entered the pottery world through training with her aunt. Her pots were collected by the Emir of Abuja (now Suleja), Alhaji Suleiman Barau, for display in his palace. This is where British potter Michael Cardew discovered her work in 1950 while on his tour for a report on pottery development in Nigeria for the colonial government.

Cardew established the Abuja Pottery Training Centre in 1952 at the request of the colonial government, and Ladi Kwali became the centre’s first female trainee in 1954. It was here that she added wheel-throwing and stoneware glazing to her skillset. Read more about Ladi Kwali here in an article by Dr Jareh Das.

Some of Dame Magdalene Odundo's early vessels.

 Magdalene Odundo.

Magdalene Odundo.

  Magdalene Odundo.

Magdalene Odundo was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and received her early education in both Kenya and India. She went on to study Ceramics, Photography and Printmaking at West Surrey College of Art and Design in Farnham, and later Ceramics at the Royal College of Art in London.

Odundo’s ceramic practice has taken her around the globe through research and exhibitions, and she is known throughout the ceramics world for her incredible skill and dedication to teaching. Read more about Dame Magdalene Odundo here and here.

Nupe or Gwari vessel. Nigeria. 1900-1970.

Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art speaks to the connections held by potters over generations and thousands of years. This Nupe or Gwari vessel from Nigeria would have been coil-built, highly decorated with incised designs and then fired in a pit or open fire.

These same techniques can be seen in Ladi Kwali's and Magdalene Odundo's work, as well as the work of thousands of other potters. As potters, we will always be connected by clay, our hands, and the age old techniques we learn, develop and share with others.
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