By Tobijulo Onifade
Art class 2007, the topic for the week is colour theory and our assignment is to create a piece with the theme ‘Pottery’. A week after, a classmate comes up with this beautifully painted work of a woman moulding a pot with other ceramic works around her. I asked my classmate where she had gotten her reference from and she told me it was the woman on the N20 Naira note. I was piqued but not curious enough to ask for the name of the potter. In 2013, whilst working on my final major project on African Culture and Identity (which was inspired by banknotes), I came across the original picture of the potter who I came to know as Ladi Kwali.



Ladi Kwali in her Doctoral robes after her receiving her Honorary Doctorate degree from Ahmadu Bello university 1980 by Blanchard Geteloma. Image from Nigerian Artistry book.
(According to the book ‘Nigerian Artistry’, Pottery is one of the most ancient crafts that is still being practised in our country today. In fact, the earliest example was found at Afikpo and is dated back to 3000BC. Pottery was important as it was used for storage, consumption, and preparation of food. Although it is a gender-neutral craft, there were more women involved in the design and production).
Born, 1925 in the village of Kwali in the Gwari region of northern Nigeria, presently Abuja, Ladi Kwali, took on the path of pottery, as it was a common trade for women in that region. Her mother was a potter but she was an apprentice to her aunt, a harsh mistress (Nigerian Artistry, page 151) at age 10. The commonality of this craft didn’t leave her in the status quo of a casual potter, her gift stood out, which made her recognized. In 1954 she joined the pottery-training centre in Abuja, the first woman to do this. Her actions went on further to pave the way for others as more women joined the centre. Her art not only speaks for her but also her courage.
At the Abuja training centre she became acquainted with glazing, the use of slips and wheel throwing but she maintained the traditional hand–building and decorative technique which was her trademark.



Ladi Kwali at the Pottery centre in Abuja
Image from Nigerian Artistry book
Her works have graced many prominent places across the globe and she held many workshops at different institutions around the world. She 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, she also received the highest national honour for academic achievement in 1980, known as the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (NNOM) and subsequently received the national honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 1981. The Abuja Training Pottery Centre and a major street were (re) named after her, and to top it all she is the first and only woman to appear on a Nigerian currency note. Her image is graced on the 20 Naira note, doing what she does best: making pots! If that is not goals, I don’t know what that is.



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With gifted hands that can be attested through unique styles and designs, Ladi Kwali inspires us not only to use our gifts but also develop and make an impact with it.


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