BY OLUDAMOLA ADEBOWALE
The Nigerian art scene over the years has grown and expanded in grandeur within and outside the country. From painting to sculpture, and pottery, both Visual and Contemporary arts as a collective system are not left out.
Producing brilliant and astounding works, Nigerian women have changed the face and feel of the art scene.
The exploits of their works have caused a great gush in the global art scene. Not to mention the inspiration they bring.
The likes of Peju Layiwola, Peju Alatise, Polly Alakija, Anthonia Nneji, Njideka Akinyuli Crosby, Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, Ndidi Emefiele, and a few have used their art to forge new narratives, as well as ensuring that the world understands the role and the importance of women in arts; especially visual arts.
Between the 1950s and the 1960s, Nigerian arts, both visual and fine arts, took a new dimension with some new-school of artists like Ben Enwonwu and Lamidi Fakeye taking the world by storm. What we do not realise is that the industry was witnessing a growth of both sexes.
The name Ladi Kwali may not ring a bell to most Nigerians, but the image of a woman spinning a pot on a pottery wheel on the face of Nigeria’s 20 Naira note is familiar to everyone.
Born in 1925, in the village of Kwali in Gwari region of Northern Nigeria, history records did not show her last name or who her parents were, hence the name of her village was conferred on her as her last name. Cattle rearing and pottery were common occupations at that time.
As a young girl child, she took an interest in pottery, especially the Northern traditional methods of coiling. Ladi excelled as a potter in every way. Dedicated and diligent at her craft, her pots were noted for their almost perfect shapes and their beauty.
The Emir of Abuja and Kano were some of her clientele. Soon, her works became known in Europe, Britain, and America.
The biggest galleries in the USA and London showcased her works, and in 1963, she was awarded a doctorate and made MBE. So impactful was Ladi that after her death, the Abuja Pottery centre was renamed ‘LadiKwali Pottery’ and she was immortalised on the Nigerian 20 Naira note.
At a time when the arts was paid little to no attention, Afi Ekong, an artist and arts promoter, rose to become highly influential to the recognition the industry would have.x
After her studies in London, she returned to Nigeria in1955 and became the 1st woman to have a solo exhibition at the Exhibition Center in Marina, Lagos. This was in 1958.
She would later own the Bronze Gallery with sites in Lagos and at the Fiekong Estate in Calabar. As an arts promoter, she was a Manager of the Lagos Arts Council and a founding member of the Society of Nigerian Artists.
She appeared regularly on a Nigerian Television program, called ‘Cultural Heritage’ to promote the arts. In 1963, she was featured in a New York Times Photo essay as an example of the ‘New African Woman’ shortly after Nigeria’s Independence in 1960. She passed on in 2009 at the age of 78. The Bronze Gallery remains in operation in Calabar.
Born in 1961 in Ogidi-Ijumu in Kogi State, Nike Davies-Okundaye lost her parents when she was 6. Fortunately, Nike was adopted by the Austrian Artist, Suzanne Wenger in Oshogbo.
Young Nike grew up learning the rudiments of Arts, hard work, and diligence at a very young age. In the 1960s, she went through training as an artist at the famous Oshogbo Arts School under the Legendary Ulli Beier. Her speciality was embroidery, weaving, and dyeing.
She took a particular interest in dyeing and was much interested in reviving old traditional ways of sustaining those practices.
She set up her first Arts Centre in Oshogbo (1983), and would later open centres in Abuja, Lagos, and her birthplace, Ogidi-Ijumu in Kogi State. As years went by, her name and her craft would take her to the four corners of the world.
Affectionately called “Mama Nike” now by her admirers all around the world, Nike Davies-Okundaye has empowered over 5000 people all around Nigeria, using her centre and her arts as a tool to fight against poverty, prostitution, and all other social vices. She has held lectures at Harvard, UCLA, and Columbia University.
A solid epitome of grace, style, and fashion, Mama Nike is a living testimony that the girl-child can survive against all odds, and most importantly, that the girl-child needs to be supported at every level, not because of today but the lives she would impact later on in life.
Proper documentation and lack of archival management have robbed us of a good list of amazing amazons that did outstanding works in the arts between 1900-1930 and even way before the 1900s. But the few remembered will be celebrated and their names would never be forgotten.