Who is Ladi Kwali? When last did you touch a twenty Naira note? Or perhaps, have you ever taken your time to study the woman on the twenty Naira note? Apparently, Ladi Kwali is one of the legendary potters in the whole of West Africa. The legendary woman has left behind, a legacy of creativity and artwork. These artworks are a blend of traditional African and Western potteries.
The legend was born in 1925, in the village of Kwali. This is a place located in the Gwari region of Northern Nigeria. Here, poetry is one of the commonest occupations, especially among women. Dr. Hadiza Ladi Kwali happened to be one of the women who learned the art of pottery. She particularly learned it from her aunty, where she used the traditional method of coiling. Ladi Kwali’s artwork was largely influenced by the environment she grew up in. She produced artworks that were largely influenced by the Gbayi tradition. She also accentuated her works with personal idioms.
Kwali made beautiful artworks like large pots, which were used as water jars. She also made cooking pots from coils of clay and decorated them beautifully. The creative’s artwork was discovered, and this marked a turning point in her career as an artist. For instance, some of her works (pots) were acquired by notable personalities like Alhaji Suleiman Barau, the Emir of Abuja, which he used for decorative purposes. Michael Cardrew was the first person to spot Ladi’s artworks, in 1950. At that time, Michael was a Pottery Officer in the Department of Commerce and Industry. This was a period during the colonial Nigerian Government. Cardew’s attention was drawn to her, such that he made her join his pottery training center in Abuja.
Apparently, Ladi was the only female potter in the training center, where she learned the Western techniques of pottery. Nonetheless, this didn’t stop her from producing handmade pots, where she used different decorating techniques. Ladi Kwali’s contact with Cardrew paved the way for her and her artworks, as she became known worldwide for her creativity. In fact, she became the best potter in Nigeria, and between the 1950s-1960s, her work was showcased in London, at the Berkeley Galleries.
Today, Ladi has set the pace for most artists in the creative world, especially potters. She was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1962 and an honorary doctoral degree from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, in 1977. She died in Minna, in 1984. In honor of her great works, The Cardrew Pottery was renamed after her, a street on the road of Abuja was named after her, and the one we are all aware of, her image graces our twenty Naira note. Indeed, she left a great legacy behind.