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Ladi Kwali

(Nigerian c.1925-1984)

Ladi Kwali, born in Kwali, in the Gwari region of central Nigeria. Kwali's early training with her aunt in her village laid the foundation for her artistic journey. Her innate talent captured the attention of Alhaji Suleiman Barau, the Emir of Abuja, who recognised her exceptional skill and displayed her pots in his palace.

In 1954, Kwali's encounter with potter Michael Cardew during his pottery development tour was pivotal. She became the first female trainee at the Pottery Training Centre in Abuja, founded by Cardew. While Cardew introduced her to wheel-throwing, Kwali continued to employ the traditional coiling technique, infusing her creations with deeply incised decorations inspired by Nigerian heritage. Kwali's vessels, adorned with motifs of scorpions, fishes, birds, and other creatures, reflect a synthesis of indigenous Nigerian pottery traditions and Western studio pottery techniques. Her mastery over stoneware clay and innovative firing methods resulted in pots that transcended their functional purpose, evolving into fine art pieces esteemed both locally and internationally.

Her works, characterised by sgraffito decoration and the use of slips and celadon glazes, are a testament to her fusion of diverse pottery traditions. Kwali's artistic legacy extends beyond her innovative techniques; she occupies a prominent place in Nigerian cultural history, being the only woman featured on Nigerian currency, the 20 Naira note, honouring her significant contributions to the nation's artistic heritage.

Kwali's impact echoes through major museums worldwide, including the British Museum and the Smithsonian Institution. As one of the first Nigerian potters to achieve international recognition, Kwali's legacy as an artist and innovator continues to inspire generations of ceramicists, bridging indigenous traditions with contemporary artistic practices.

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