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Ladi Kwali: The potter on the Twenty Naira Note

Ladi Kwali: The potter on the Twenty Naira Note

Pottery is the process of forming vessels and other objects with clay and other ceramic materials, which are fired to give them a hard, durable form. Major types include earthenware, stoneware and porcelain.  Ladi Kwali, was a Nigerian potter.

Ladi Kwali was born in the village of Kwali in the Gwari region of Northern Nigeria, where pottery was an indigenous female tradition.She learned to make pottery as a child by her aunt using the traditional method of coiling.

Coiling is a method of creating pottery. It has been used to make clay into vessels for many thousands of years. It ranges from Africa to Greece and from China to New Mexico. Using the coiling technique, it is possible to build thicker or taller walled vessels, which may not have been possible using earlier methods. The technique permits control of the walls as they are built up and allows building on top of the walls to make the vessel look bigger and bulge outward or narrow inward with less danger of collapsing.

Photo: Buzznigeria / Ladi Kwali and a white colleague

She made large pots for use as water jars, cooking pots, bowls, and flasks from coils of clay, beaten from the inside with a flat wooden paddle. They were decorated with incised geometric and stylized figurative patterns, including scorpions, lizards, crocodiles, chameleons, snakes, birds, and fish.[ She would impress patterns on top of the figures by rolling small roulettes of twisted string or notched wood over the surface of the clay, sometimes as horizontal banding and sometimes in vertical panels.

Photo: Pulse.ng / Actual picture used on the 20 Naira bill

Ladi Kwali was born in the small village of Kwali, present Kwali Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory, in 1925 (Other historians indicate her date of birth is actually 1920). She grew up in a family that kept up with the folkloric female tradition of pottery making.  

Michael Ambrose Cardew CBE (1901–1983), was an English studio potter who worked in West Africa for twenty years. In 1951,Michael Cardew was appointed to the post of Pottery Officer in the Department of Commerce and Industry in the colonial Nigerian Government , and in April 1952 he established the Pottery Training Centre in Suleja (then called “Abuja”).

In 1954, Ladi Kwali joined the Abuja Pottery as its first female potter. There, she learned wheel throwing, glazing, kiln firing, production of saggars, and the use of slip, eventually assuming the role of instructor.

Photo:Wikipedia / Large hand built pot with rim, incised and inlaid pattern in red slip with transparent glaze.

From her cultural tradition, where females were primarily responsible for pottery, Ladi Kwali’s ceramics became “art objects”. Ladi Kwali’s pots were featured in international exhibitions of Abuja pottery in 1958, 1959, and 1962, organised by Cardew. In 1961, Kwali gave demonstrations at the Royal College, Farnham, and Wenford Bridge in Great Britain. She also gave demonstrations in France and Germany over this period. In 1972, she toured America with Cardew. Her work was shown to great acclaim in London at the Berkeley Galleries. The Abuja Pottery was renamed the Ladi Kwali Pottery in the early 1980s.

Awards and achievements

Kwali was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1962.

In 1977, she was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria.

In 1980, the Nigerian Government (from the Cabinet Office of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) invested on her with the insignia of the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award(NNOM),[the highest national honour for academic achievement.

She also received the national honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 1981.

Her picture appears at the back of the Nigerian 20 Naira bill.

A major street in Abuja is called Ladi Kwali Road.

The Sheraton Hotel houses the Ladi Kwali Convention Center, one of the largest conference facilities in Abuja with 10 meeting rooms and four ballrooms.

Ladi Kwali died August 12, 1984

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