Ladi Kwali was born in the village of Kwali in the Gwari region of northern Nigeria, where pottery was an indigenous profession among women. She was taught to make pottery as a child by her aunt using the traditional quilling method.  made large pots to be used as water jars, cooking pots, bowls and flasks from clay rolls, beaten inside with a flat wooden oar. It is decorated with stylized geometric and figurative carvings, including scorpions, lizards, crocodiles, chameleons, snakes, birds and fish.

Her vessels were renowned for their beauty in form and decoration, and she was regionally recognized as a talented and eminent potter. Many of them were bought by the Emir of Abuja,  Alhaji Suleiman Baru, as Michael Cardio saw them at his home in 1950. She was born in the small village of Kwali, which is currently in Kwali District Council of the Federal Capital Territory, in 1925 (other historians suggest that her date of birth is actually 1920. She was raised in a family that kept up with the folkloric tradition of female pottery, said Malam Mechanic Kepez, younger brother To Ladi Kwali: “Even in the early years of pottery, Ladi Kwali excelled in handicrafts and her wares were often sold even before they were taken to the markets.”

During Her Early Career Years, The Traditional Cultural Environment Prompted Her To Produce Pottery Pieces Influenced By The Gbagyi Tradition And Heightened By Personal Expression. Her Approach To Clay Is Echoed By The Sporty Undertones, Which Are Made Visible By The Constant Display Of Symmetry.

Michael Cardio, who was appointed as the Pottery Officer in the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the colonial Nigerian government in 1951, established the Pottery Training Center in Solija (then called Abuja) in April 1952. In 1954, Lady Kwali joined Abuja Pottery as the first female ceramist. There, she learned wheel throwing, glazes, kiln firing, cigar production, the use of slip, and eventually took on the role of coach. Bowls were made with sgraffito decoration, which involved dipping the bowls in a red or white slip and then scratching the decoration by slipping into the lower body, using a porcupine feather.

By the time Cardio left office in 1965, the center had attracted four additional Gwari women: Halima Odeh, Lamy Toto, Asebi Edo and Kandi Oshafa. These women worked together in one of the workshops, which they called the Dakin Gwari (Gwari Room), to manually build large pots of water.

In 1954, Kwali pots were displayed at the International Abuja Pottery Exhibition organized by Michael Cardio.

Ladi was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1963. In 1977 she was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by Ahmadu Bello university, 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 (NNOM), the highest national honor for academic achievement.

She was also awarded the Niger Officer’s National Medal of Honor (OON) in 1981. Her picture appears on the back of the Nigerian N20 note. Also, a main street in Abuja named after her as Ladi Kwali Road. The Sheraton Hotel houses the Lady kwali Convention Centre, one of the largest conference facilities in Abuja, consisting of ten meeting rooms and four ballrooms. Her works are collected worldwide, such as the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, USA, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Aberystwyth University Ceramics Gallery, UK. The 2022 exhibition at Two Temple Place Body Vessel Clay, Black Women, Ceramics and Contemporary Art, included Kwali as the starting point for drawing 70 years of ceramics by a black artist. The Google Doodle of March 16, 2022 was in honor of Ladi Kwali.


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