Ladi Kwali

Ladi Kwali, OON, MBE (c.1925– August 12, 1984) was a Nigerian potter.

Early Life: 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. 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. The wooden roulettes consisted of small cylinders of hardwood, two or three inches long and a half-inch in diameter, notched with straight, oblique, or parallel patterns. The earthenware vessels and decorative techniques have been dated back to the Neolithic period. Following the region’s traditional method, they were fired in a bonfire of dry vegetation. Her pots were noted for their beauty of form and decoration, and she was recognized regionally as a gifted and eminent potter. Several were acquired by the Emir of Abuja, Alhaji Suleiman Barau, in whose home they were seen by Michael Cardew in 1950.

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 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 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.

Hand-built pot by Ladi Kwali with incised figures; W.A. Ismay Studio Ceramics Collection, York Art Gallery

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