Many things in life often slip by us, mostly because we go through the routines without really paying attention to the processes. In an age where advocacy for women recognition is on the rise, it would interest anyone to know that, females do have a representation in a very important and loved part in our country, the Nigerian currency.
ABOUT LADI KWALI
Ladi Kwali was born in Kwali – a village in Gwari region in what is now the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, in 1925. Her names have an interesting tune to them. ‘Ladi’ means ‘Sunday’ – by extension, ‘one who was born on Sunday’ – whereas ‘Kwali’ is the name of her village.
Given that she was born into a lineage of potters, Ladi did not have a formal education. Rather, she was trained in the art of pottery by her aunt. After a few years of learning the most common methods of pottery – coiling and pinching, she gained her freedom and commenced business operations on her own. Her works were majorly inspired by her traditional cultural environment – the Gbayi tradition. She made large pots, cutleries, bowls, water jars, and cooking pots for domestic use.
Over the years, Ladi Kwali mastered the art and became the first Nigerian to successfully combine the local methods of production and designs, with that of the western world. She was described as being gifted and well known for her beautiful designs. Her creative sense appealed to the Emir of Abuja at the time, Alhaji Suleiman Barau, who patronized her immensely.
Ladi’s case turned out to be like the ‘diligent man who would not stand before mean men but before kings’. Furthermore, her gifts made way for her when Michael Cardew visited Abuja in 1950, just around the time she moved to Abuja as well. Michael got drawn to her works and insisted on working with her. He helped her to improve on her skill and four years later, she became the first woman to be admitted to the Cardew Pottery Training Centre in Abuja.
NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION
On October 1st, 1960, Nigeria’s Maiden Independence Day Celebration, Ladi Kwali’s works were showcased among the few others chosen in the category of craftsmanship.
In 1962, she was awarded with the honor of ‘Member of The British Empire (MBE)’ and was subsequently featured at Winchcombe Pottery in England. Her works were also showcased at Berkeley Galleries, while she lectured at select institutions in England.
Owing to the unforgettable legacy she left with the students she trained at Cardew Pottery Training Centre, the institution was renamed after her – Ladi Kwali Pottery Centre, Abuja.
In 1961, Kwali gave demonstrations at the Royal College, Farnham and Wenfor Bridge in Great Britain. She also gave demonstrations in France and Germany. She gave lectures and demonstrations on her craft in Nigeria and was a part-time lecturer and demonstrator at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. Despite the lack of a formal education, Ladi was given a honorary Doctorate Degree by ABU in 1977. In the same year, she was given a Silver Award of Excellence at the ‘10th International Exhibition of Ceramic Art’ by the Smithsonian Institute.
In order to further acknowledge her contributions to arts and crafts in the country, she was bequeathed with the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award, the highest national Honor of academic achievement, in 1980. A year later, she received the National honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON).
The Sheraton Hotel houses the Ladi Kwali Convention Centre, one of the largest conference rooms in Abuja, with 10 meeting rooms and four ballrooms. A major road in Abuja has also been named after her – Ladi Kwali Road.
Ladi Kwali’s picture appears on the back of the Nigeria’s twenty naira (₦20) note and till date, she is the only woman on the Nigerian currency.
She was regarded as the best Nigerian Potter before her death on 12 August, 1984. She died in Minna, Niger State.