Ladi Kwali, OON, MBE was a Nigerian potter, ceramicist, and educator.
Born in the Kwali village in the Gwari region of Northern Nigeria, where pottery was an indigenous occupation among women.
Her aunt trained her how to coil pottery as a child. She made big pots from clay coils smashed from the inside with a flat wooden paddle for use as water jars, cooking pots, bowls, and flasks. They were ornamented with engraved geometric and stylized figurative designs of scorpions, lizards, crocodiles, chameleons, snakes, birds, and fish.
Her pots were also known for their beauty of shape and ornamentation, and she was regarded regionally as a skilled and eminent potter. Several were also acquired by the Emir of Abuja, Alhaji Suleiman Barau, in whose home Michael Cardew saw them in 1950.
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Ladi Kwali became the Abuja Pottery’s first female potter in 1954. She learnt wheel throwing, glazing, kiln fire, saggar manufacturing, and slip use there, eventually becoming an instructor. She created sgraffito bowls by dipping vessels in red or white slip and then scratching the decoration through the slip to the underlying body with a porcupine quill.
By the time Cardew stepped down in 1965, the Centre had recruited four more Gwari women: Halima Audu, Lami Toto, Assibi Iddo, and Kande Ushafa. These ladies collaborated to hand-build big water pots in one of the workshops known as Dakin Gwari (the Gwari chamber).
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Awards and Achievements
- In 1954, Kwali ‘s pots were featured in the International exhibition of Abuja pottery organized by Michael Cardew.
- Kwali was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1963.
- In 1977, she was also 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 honor for academic achievement.
- She also received the national honor of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 1981.
- Her picture appears at the back of the Nigerian N20 Naira bill.
- A major street in Abuja is also called Ladi Kwali Road.
- The Sheraton Hotel houses the Ladi Kwali Convention Center, which is one of the largest conference facilities in Abuja, consisting of ten meeting rooms and four ballrooms.
- Her works are held in collection all around the world, such as Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, USA, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Aberystwyth University Ceramics Gallery, UK
- The 2022 exhibition at Two Temple Place Body Vessel Clay, Black Women, Pottery & Contemporary Art included Kwali as the starting point for charting 70 years of ceramics by black women artists.
- The Google Doodle for 16 March 2022 was in honor of Kwali.