By Uche Amunike
Google, as a way of celebrating the life of famous Nigerian, Ladi Kwali, Potter of great repute, used a doodle on its search homepage as is done when celebrating holidays, anniversaries and lives of famous pioneers scientists and artists.
Ladi kwali was a ceramicist and educator who took the pains, through her works, to show the world the beauty of Nigerian art through beautifully decorated earthenware designs.
She was born in 1925 into a background of potters in Kwali, Abuja, Nigeria. During her childhood, she learnt the coil and pinch methods of pottery under the tutelage of her aunt, but later invented her own style by fabricating regular containers ornamented with animal iconography.
Before long, her beautiful works were used as home decorations by local aristocrats which made Michael Cardew, founder of Abuja’s first potter training facility discover her talent in a royal palace, in 1950.
Indeed Ladi Kwali, Potter and Glass worker became the first Nigerian woman to be trained in wheel throwing, glazing, production of saggar, the use of slip and kiln firing. As she acquired new skills, she merged the traditional art form with the modern arts which made her produce beautiful works that gave her popularity both in-and-outside Nigeria .
She joined the Abuja pottery centre in 1954 where history was made in her life as she became the first Nigerian woman to train in advanced pottery techniques. With the traditional style which she had mastered, she merged it with innovative methods to craft a hybrid collection of pottery, designed with zoomorphic illustrations.
She did not stop there, as she went ahead to break barriers and frontiers in the 60s with remarkable exhibitions across the Americas and Europe, attaining international acclaim for herself.
She was later to teach her local community the secrets of her craft when she became a university lecturer much later in her career. She bagged a doctorate degree from the Ahmadu Bello University in 1977 and the prestigious Nigerian National Order of Merit award in 1980 which is one of Nigeria’s most distinguished national awards in recognition of her academic achievement. It didn’t stop there, because in 1963, she was awarded an MBE, (Member of the Order of the British Empire).
Ladi Kwali, potter and pioneer of African ceramic art modernism, gained a lot of love, admiration and visibility on the international stage due to her numerous exhibitions and practical demonstrations, some of which were held at the Berkeley Galleries in 1958, 1959 and 1962.
Her works were widely appreciated and recognized in Britain, America and Europe while locally, they were displayed during Nigeria’s Independence activities in October, 1960.
Kwali is the face of Nigeria’s 20 Naira note. Historically, she will always remembered for being the first and only woman to be featured on the Nigerian currency.
She died after living a fulfilled life on August 12, 1984. Her sculpture is being made by Ambrose Diala.