Kwali Ladi

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Ladi Kwali was probably the best known of the Abuja potters. Making pots was women’s work in the Nigerian villages, and Ladi came to Abuja with a knowledge of traditional Nigerian pottery. The large pots used for water storage were made from spiralled coils of clay, beaten from the inside with an implement like a potter’s rib or a spoon, and fired in the open air by covering them in dry vegetation and lighting it.

She did not at first take to the idea of using wheels and kilns and the other paraphernalia of the European potter, but proved to have a natural ability to throw. Cardew encouraged her to decorate her work, something she had not done before, and he even fired some of her traditional work in the Abuja kiln.

Ladi was later to become a very popular member of the touring lecture team; her easy nature and ability to communicate made her well liked and appreciated in Europe, Britain and America. She became Nigeria’s best known potter and has been honoured in many ways; she was given a doctorate, the Abuja Pottery was renamed for her and the Abuja Sheraton Hotel is in Ladi Kwali Road.

Awards and achievements

Kwali was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1962.

In 1977, she was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from Ahmadu Bello University in 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 Award (NNOM), the highest national honour for academic achievement.

She also received the national honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 1981.

Her picture appears at the back of the Nigerian N20 Naira bill.

A major street in Abuja is called Ladi Kwali Road.

The Sheraton Hotel houses the Ladi Kwali Convention Center, one of the largest conference facilities in Abuja with ten meeting rooms and four ballrooms.