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ThrowBack Thursday: Ladi Kwali – The Potter Who Graced A Naira Note

A quick glance at the back of the mint-green note of the N20 Nigerian currency depicts a woman in traditional attire tending to her pottery.

Her name is Hadiza Ladi Kwali – the only Nigerian woman who appears on any of the Nigerian denominational notes. She was born in present Kwali Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (F.C.T), Abuja in the Gwari region of Northern Nigeria.

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As a child, Ladi learned the traditional art of pottery in her community as a craft which the women were mostly drawn to. As an apprentice under her aunt, Ladi learnt the pottery method known as ‘coiling and pinching’. Ladi’s pieces were made from coils of clay which were beaten from the inside with a flat wooden paddle. She would then decorate them with stylized figurative patterns by making geometric incisions on the material reminiscent of old African art.

Her items, which comprised large pots and cooking pots of different shapes and sizes, travelled far even within the Nigerian art circles and in the homes of art connoisseurs. Ladi’s pots were used in the residences of aristocrats and nobles as decorations, for ornamental purposes and for domestic use. One of such notable figures who patronized her was then Emir of Abuja, Alhaji Suleiman Barau. It was through the Emir that Ladi’s works caught the attention of Michael Cardew – the Pottery Officer in the Department of Commerce and Industry during the colonial Nigerian Government in 1950. Cardew took special interest in Ladi’s works.

Michael Cardew established the Pottery Training Centre in Suleja in April 1952 and Ladi would later attend Michael Cardew’s Pottery Training Centre. The allure of old African pottery which had become a rarity got reborn and it was re-presented to a fascinated European and Western audience through the influence of her mentor.

By early 1960s, Ladi’s works had already started receiving wide acclaim around the world from where she proceeded to exhibit at the Berkeley Galleries in London and also giving demonstrations at the Royal College, Farnham, at Wenford Bridge, Great Britain, in France and in Germany. In 1972, Ladi toured America with Michael Cardew. She was later recommended for the title of Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and she was awarded in 1962.

She also received an honorary doctoral degree from the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria in 1977. To appreciate her depiction of her country of birth, Nigeria in great light to the international community, the Nigerian government chose Ladi as a recipient of the highly coveted Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (NNOM) which was conferred on her in 1980 while the national honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) followed almost immediately in 1981.

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Dr. Kwali died in Minna on August 12, 1984, aged 59. To preserve her legacy in the Nigerian arts space and to honour her contributions, the Cardew Pottery Center in Abuja was renamed after Ladi Kwali as the Ladi Kwali Pottery Center.

A major street in Abuja is now called Ladi Kwali Road. And in 2007, when the N20 notes were eventually changed to polymer notes, the back had an image of Ladi Kwali with some of her pots emblazoned on it.



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Macaddy Gad

Macaddy is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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