Ladi Dosei Kwali (1925-1983), the woman on the twenty naira note, was the best potter in Nigeria. Popularly known as Dr Ladi Kwali, she was born in 1925 in Kwali village, now a town in the present Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Making pots was women’s work in Kwali and the entire Gwari (Gbagy) villages.
Ladi was picked from her traditional home in Kwali and taken to the Abuja Pottery Training Centre in present day Suleja because of her natural ability in making pots. Therefore, she came to Abuja (the then Suleja) with knowledge of traditional Gwari pottery.
The Abuja Pottery Training Centre was established 1950 by an English potter, Michael Cardew, who was sent to the Abuja area by the British colonial government in order to improve the quality of local work. But he found himself, for the next 15 years, in a symbiotic working relationship with local potters, in which he taught and was taught by potters like Ladi Kwali.
Ladi 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.
While Cardew introduced wheels and kilns to the centre, he also learnt about traditional firing methods and ornamentation.
Ladi Kwali, on the other hand, was initially reluctant to adapt to the wheel, preferring the spiralled coil method of building pots. She, however, discovered she had a natural flair for the wheel. 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.
Over the next decade, her ornamentation skills became more sophisticated, and probably because of improved firing methods.
Ladi was later to become a very popular member of the touring lecture team. She exhibited her work in Europe in 1958, 1959 and 1962. Her work was displayed at the Berkeley Galleries in London.
Her easy nature and ability to communicate made her well liked and appreciated in Britain and America.
Her pottery was also displayed during Nigeria’s independence celebrations in 1960.
She gave lectures and demonstrations at home and abroad on her craft throughout her career.
She was awarded with several honours, including a doctorate degree and was made MBE in 1963 for the level of detail and skill she utilised while making her pots. Her picture decorates the N20 bill.
Dr Ladi Kwali remained associated with the Abuja pottery works till she died in 1983. By that time, she was Nigeria’s best known potter.
She left a rich legacy of her work and a school of ‘students’ who picked up from where she left at the Abuja Pottery Training Centre.
Leave a Reply