Ladi Kwali and Uche Okeke “The Road to Kpaaza”

Skoto Gallery

poster for Ladi Kwali and Uche Okeke “The Road to Kpaaza”
[Image: Uche Okeke "Face of Onwa" (1981) charcoal on paper, 12x9 in.]

This event has ended.

Skoto Gallery presents The Road to Kpaaza, a two-person exhibition of works by renowned Nigerian artists Ladi Kwali and Uche Okeke. This will be the first exhibition of Ladi Kwali’s work at the gallery, while the selection of Uche Okeke’s work, mostly drawn from a series produced during his 1981-82 sabbatical year at the University of Minnesota, will make its New York debut in this show.

Ladi Kwali (1925-1984) was an eminent Nigerian potter, and widely regarded as a pioneer of modern pottery in Africa. She came to international prominence in the late 1950s working with the English studio potter Michael Cardew who had helped launch the government-funded Abuja Pottery Training Centre in 1951. It was at the centre that she learnt to blend traditional pottery methods and ornamentation with Western techniques of forming (wheel throwing) and glazing while using the traditional African method of firing with a bonfire of dried vegetation. A woman of great artistic acumen and unprecedented creativity with strong value for exploration and experimentation, she did not see pottery as a casual occupation but a sacred and special gift that was meant to impact the world. Michael Cardew was an early admirer of Ladi Kwali’s work as her expertise was already known within her society - in his own words: “Pottery is the expression of a people’s genius. It will only survive if it is able to find national style. It requires a continually alert sensibility, plus a reasonable confidence in one’s own mature judgment”.

Ladi Kwali grew up in a family of women potters renowned for making outstandingly beautiful pots which were not just very impressive in terms of aesthetics but also had great functional significance. She learnt the traditional art of pottery from her aunt, in a society where pottery has been the exclusive preserve of the women for centuries. Apart from the fact that pots found a lot of domestic and religious uses, they were also and still remain veritable sources of income to most communities. Over the span of a decade, the mixture of improved firing methods, wheel and kiln technology as well as sophistication in ornamentation skills, she became the woman who changed the face of pottery in Nigeria and heralded the face of modern pottery through her special gift and dexterity in the act of pottery.

Through her contact with Michael Cardew, Ladi Kwali’s international reputation followed exhibitions and demonstrations in Britain, Germany, the USA and Canada from 1958 onwards. She was made a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1963; and awarded an honorary degree by Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria in 1977. Her pottery was also displayed during Nigeria’s independence celebration in 1960. She was also a recipient of Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA), the highest national honor for academic achievement and a national award of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) to her name. The Abuja Training Pottery Centre was renamed the Ladi Kwali Pottery Centre. Roads in Abuja and Niger State are named after her. Today, her picture adorns the 20 Naira Nigerian currency, the first woman in the history of the country to have that honor. She died in Minna, Nigeria in 1984, leaving behind a rich legacy of her work and a sizeable number of appren tices who picked up from where she left at the Abuja Pottery Training Centre.

Uche Okeke (1933-2016) was a leading light in the Zaria Art Society founded by a group of young artists at the National College of Arts and Science, Zaria, Uche Okeke emerged as an integral figure in the development of Nigerian art in the late 1950s. The Art Society’s readiness to expand on notions that art practice should be appraised within the exigency of its time gave meaning and elaboration to the fertile ideas and existential realities of an emergent post-colonial generation at the dawn of independence in 1960. In search for new post-colonial identity, they sought methods and new approach to materials that explored the plastic and conceptual potential of indigenous African, non-Western and European artistic traditions as springboard for contemporary practice. This philosophical principle which Uche Okeke formally articulated as “Natural Synthesis” was extremely influential in creating an artistic agenda and identity in post-colonial Nigeria.

Renowned for his immense contribution to the development of post-colonial aesthetics and artistic ideology during the 1960s decade of independence and liberation movements in Africa, Uche Okeke’s early drawings are pure meditations upon the nature of line itself. A pioneer modernist, theorist and poet with an eloquent grasp and strong commitment to the idea of synthesis and adaptation of indigenous forms in modern art, his ground-breaking visual experimentations with subject matter and style drawn from his Igbo heritage combined with techniques of art history are personal testimonies of struggle with form and context layered with psychological and intellectual references to the individual, community, and history. A master of lyrical and sensitive lines, he uses resplendent curves and fluid lines to convey the true harmonies of his artistic vision.

Uche Okeke was born 1933 in Nimo, Nigeria, and trained at the Nigerian College of Art and Technology, Zaria in 1957-62. He also studied stain glass and mosaic techniques at the Franz Mayer Studio, Munich, Germany in 1963. He was a member of the Mbari Mbayo Artists and Writers Workshop, Ibadan; and directed the Mbari Art Center, Enugu, 1964-67. In 1970, he joined the faculty of the Department of Fine Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he taught until his retirement in the late 1980s. Exhibitions include Afro-Modern: Journeys through Black Atlantic, Tate Modern, Liverpool, 2010; Musee de l’Homme, Paris, 1972; Hamons Foundation, New York, 1964; Sao Paolo Biennale, 1961; British Council, Kano, 1958. Collections include Asele Institute, Nimo Nigeria; National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos; OYASAF, Foundation, Lagos; Nigeria; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; Newark Museum, NJ and Museum of Modern Art, New York, Awards include th e Presidential Award-MFR 2001; Federal Government of Nigeria Award for distinguished service in Arts and Culture and the Yusuf Grillo Pavilion Visual Arts Fiesta Award, Lagos in 2012.

This exhibition of Ladi Kwali’s work draws mostly on the collection of the late Nigerian artist Afi Ekong (1930-2009) who established the Bronze Gallery, Lagos in 1965. The gallery was moved to Calabar, a coastal city in South East Nigeria in 1994, as a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and impacting humankind through culture and art. Afi Ekong was the first Nigerian female-trained artist and art promoter extraordinaire. We will like to thank Mr. Burns Effiom, Curator, Bronze Gallery, Calabar for his help in making this exhibition possible.



from March 23, 2017 to April 29, 2017

Opening Reception on 2017-03-23 from 18:00 to 20:00

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