May 27, 2022

The Nigerian ceramicist, Hadiza Ladi Kwali, OON, MBE (1925–1984) was a talented artist whose expertise had been noted before she came to the attention of Michael Cardew and, through him, the world in the 1960s. She became world famous for practicing a hybrid of traditional African and Western studio pottery styles. As a result, though she had no formal education, she conducted workshops, demonstrations, and exhibited in London, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and all over the United States.

Ladi Kwali’s hybrid technique blended the customary Gwari method and symbolic motifs ornamentation, which she learnt from her aunt from when she was nine years old, with Western techniques of wheel throwing and glazing, which she learnt from the Abuja Pottery Training Center, while still using the traditional open firing method with herbal glazes. Ladi Kwali’s artistry changed the face of modern pottery around the world. In acknowledgement of her achievements, Nigeria adorns the Nigerian 20 Naira note with her picture, the only woman to have such honor.

Her works are in prominent collections including that of the National Museum, Lagos; the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva, Switzerland; National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, and, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This is a biographical timeline of the life of this pioneer:

Birth of Ladi Kwali in the village of Kwali in the Gwari region of Northern Nigeria into an extended family of female potters.

Kwali begins learning pottery-making as apprentice to her aunt.

An English potter, Michael Cardew (Pottery officer in the Department of Commerce and Industry) is sent to the Abuja area by the colonial government tasked with developing a ceramic industry.

Cardew notices Ladi Kwali’s pots at the palace of the Emir of Abuja, Alhaji Suleiman Barau, who had acquired many of her pieces.

April: Michael Cardew opens the Abuja Pottery Training Centre in Suleja.

Kwali joins the Abuja Pottery Training Centre, at the invitation of Cardew. She is the Centre’s first female potter.

Kwali’s pots are featured in the international exhibition of Abuja pottery organised by Cardew in London.

Her work was again shown to great acclaim in London at the Berkeley Galleries.

Her works are displayed at the Nigerian Independence Exhibition during the Independence Day celebrations.

Kwali gives demonstrations at the Royal College, Farnham, and Wenford Bridge in Great Britain.

She conducts a workshop in London.

Kwali is awarded an MBE (member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire).

She conducts workshops and exhibits in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.

Kwali features in the group exhibition at the Tenth International Exhibit of Ceramic Art, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Kwali conducts workshops in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and other major cities in the United States.

She receives the Silver Award for Excellence, Tenth International Exhibit of Ceramic Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Kwali tours America with Michael Cardew.

She gives workshops and demonstrations in Washington, DC.

She features in a group exhibition at “Contemporary African Arts,” Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, USA.

Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria awards her an honorary doctorate.

She spends a session at Ahmadu Bello University giving demonstrations on her pottery-making techniques

1980: the Nigerian Government invests on Kwali the insignia of the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (NNOM), the highest national honour for academic achievement.

The Abuja Pottery Centre is renamed the Ladi Kwali Pottery Centre.

She receives the national honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON).

A major street in Abuja is named Ladi Kwali Road.

The Sheraton Hotel houses the Ladi Kwali Convention Center, one of the largest conference facilities in Abuja with 10 meeting rooms and four ballrooms.

Kwali receives a Silver Award for Excellence during the tenth International Exhibition for Ceramic Art at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC.

12 August 1984: Ladi Kwali dies in Minna.

This article was first published on 24 April 2018 on Artstrings.Africa

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