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Biography of Ladi Kwali
Dr. Hadiza Ladi Kwali was one of Nigeria’s foremost and most prolific potters, as well as the woman at the back of twenty naira note.
Ladi Kwali was born in the small village of Kwali, in present day Abuja, in about 1925. Some historians argued that she was born in 1920.
Her first name “Ladi” means “born on Sunday” while her surname “Kwali” is the name of her village in which she was born.
Ladi Kwali at work
During her early years as a professional potter, Ladi Kwali was moved by her traditional and cultural environment to produce pottery pieces that were influenced by the Gbagyi tradition and accentuated with personal idioms.
She made large pots used for storing water and cooking pots from coils of clay, beaten from the inside with a flat wooden paddle, decorated with incised geometric and stylised figurative patterns.
The Emir of Abuja, Alhaji Suleiman Barau, fell in love with Kwali’s works and bought a whole collection.
In 1950, an English studio potter named Michael Cardew saw her work at the Emir’s palace, he was surprised by the level of her proficiency, as a result he stayed back for the purpose of spreading her work to the whole world.
Michael found the first pottery training in Abuja, where he recruited and trained men. She was the first woman to be enrolled at the Abuja pottery Center where she learned wheel throwing, glazing, kiln firing, production of saggars, and the use of slip, eventually assuming the role of instructor.
Meeting Cardew changed her life. Ladi Kwali became known all around the world and became Nigeria’s best known potter.
Her works were displayed on Nigeria’s Independence Day in 1960.
During her London famous tour, she showcased her pottery works and was honored the award of the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Despite having no schooling, she was honored with a doctorate degree by the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Kaduna State in 1977; she was also a part-time lecturer and demonstrator at the university.
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.
The Abuja Pottery was renamed the Ladi Kwali Pottery in the early 1980s. Ladi Kwali is the only woman on the Nigerian 20 naira note which has late General Muhammed Muritala on its front.
- Courtesy Phoenix